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Sky Blues go extra mile to close in on a bit of history

Ballymena 3 Coleraine 0

By Billy Weir

Three goals in extra-time fired Ballymena United into the final of the League Cup and came in the sweetest possible way at the expense of local rivals Coleraine.

After a scoreless 90 minutes that was typically feisty and fiery, the Sky Blues made the breakthrough with Tony Kane's incredible 10th penalty of the season.

Cathair Friel doubled their advantage before Darren Henderson wrapped things up with a picture-book third goal and United will now be big favourites to lift the trophy for the first time in their history when they take on Carrick Rangers in February.

The Bannsiders lined up with four changes from Saturday's defeat at Glenavon with Steven Douglas, Rodney Brown, Brad Lyons and Jamie McGonigle all back having been rested ahead of the last-four tussle.

Ballymena's only change was the return of Johnny McMurray, the match-winning hero of Saturday's come-from-behind victory at Glentoran replacing Gavin Taggart.

And McMurray and Douglas were at the centre of the action in the ninth minute for the wrong reasons when a tussle between the pair ended with what looked like a swing of the elbow from the United striker and referee Evan Boyce booked him for his troubles.

Footballing action was at a premium in the opening quarter, a ninth-minute Brown free-kick and a powderpuff effort from Willie Faulkner just past the midway mark of the half the closest we came to breaking the deadlock.

David Ogilby almost obliged in the 27th minute when the tallest man on the pitch somehow crept in unnoticed at the back post to get on the end of Brown's free-kick but couldn't guide the ball on target.

Kane warmed Chris Johns' palms with a long-range drive and a minute before the break was involved in the best chance of the half, his long throw bobbling around the six-yard box and only Allan Jenkins will know how he shot wide.

United came flying out of the blocks after the break and put together their best move of the game in the opening seconds as McMurray and strike partner Friel linked up well but the former's shot was too close to the goalkeeper.

Friel, United's top scorer, was becoming a threat, shooting just wide in the 52nd minute and two minutes later getting on the end of great work by Faulkner to slide in at the back post, but Johns got down well to save.

Brown, playing against his hometown club, looked like he had finally made the breakthrough with 11 minutes to go when he got on the end of Jenkins' bizarre downward header into his own danger area but the left-back's shot took a deflection onto the crossbar.

There were to be no goals in normal time but the deadlock was broken five minutes into extra-time - in controversial circumstances. There seemed to be little danger as the ball was fed to Friel at the edge of the box but just inside it Douglas took out the former Limavady player and referee Boyce pointed to the spot.

Kane stepped up to slot home his 10th penalty of the season and Coleraine's misery deepened soon after when manager Oran Kearney was sent off for taking his protests too far.

United doubled their advantage in the 113th minute when Leroy Millar put the ball on a plate at the far post and Friel gleefully slid it home.

The cherry on the cake was provided by Henderson with eight minutes remaining, a wonderful flowing move that ended with the former Coleraine man wrapping things up in style.

Ballymena: Glendinning, Kane, McCracken, Ervin, Owens, Faulkner, McCaffrey (Taggart 102), McMurray (Henderson 105), Friel, Jenkins, Millar. Subs not used: Blayney, Wallace, Loughran.

Coleraine: Johns, Kane, Brown, Kee (Allan 80), Douglas, Ogilby, McCauley, McCafferty, McLaughlin, Lyons, McGonigle (Parkhill 106).

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