King David reigns to take Crues to final
Ballymena United 1 Crusaders 2
David Rainey must wish he could play in the Co. Antrim Shield every day as the experienced striker's brace turned this semi-final tie on its head and fired Crusaders into an October 30 final date with Glentoran.
With 20 minutes to go Ballymena United looked to be on their way to the final showdown when teenage defender Johnny Flynn gave them the lead.
But two typical pieces of clinical Rainey finishing in the space of 10 minutes, took his tally to five in the competition this year and earned the Crues their first final appearance since 2004 and left Tommy Wright to face the wrath of disgruntled home fans at the Showgrounds.
Rainey though couldn't have been happier as he took his season's tally to eight in all competitions.
"I've scored in every round but, more importantly, we're in a final and that's the first for the club for a few years," he said afterwards.
"I think the last one was against Linfield and I wasn't here then but we're all looking forward to it.
"Obviously it's going to be tough because they're playing really good football at the minute and have a 100 per cent record.
"Hopefully we can win it, we're certainly going to have a go at them and it great for the fans to have a cup final and we can pit our wits against one of the big boys."
Simon Kelly, one of four changes made to the home side's starting line-up from Saturday's capitulation to the Glens, almost made a dream return to first team action when he lined up a free-kick in the ninth minute.
From all of 30 yards his powerful strike had former United keeper Gregg Shannon grasping at thin air but he was saved by the crossbar that was still rattling as the ball dropped behind for a goal-kick.
Shannon was a relieved man again four minutes later when Gary Haveron, playing in midfield in Wright's reshuffled pack, got on the end of Craig McClean's corner but his downward header was stopped on the line by Chris Morrow.
Stephen Baxter, already without the cup-tied Gary Smyth, was forced into another defensive shuffle when Andy Hunter was stretchered off in the 16th minute. There was no-one near him as his right foot twisted on the Showgrounds turf and after three minutes of treatment he was carried off and was later taken to hospital.
In first-half injury-time teenage goalkeeper Sean O'Neill was called into real action for the first time when he did well to kick away Rainey's shot from the edge of the box.
There was a nervous moment for the young shot-stopper six minutes into the second period when he failed to grasp Rainey's corner and Garth Scates had to be alert to clear the danger as Declan Caldwell closed in.
The breakthrough came in the 63rd minute and what a moment it was for Flynn, the Northern Ireland Under-19 Milk Cup star making his first competitive start for the Sky Blues.
There was an almighty scramble in the box from McClean's corner and when Kevin Kelbie's effort came back off the post there was 17-year-old Flynn to knock home the rebound.
The lead lasted just eight minutes, Rainey keeping up his record of scoring in every round of the Shield, when he latched onto Shannon's long clearance and calmly slotted home his seventh goal of the season.
Rainey almost made it five goals in the Shield run with a speculative effort on the turn in the 79th minute that fizzed just over but he was not to be denied.
Two minutes later and it was a similar tale to his first effort, another Shannon punt downfield falling to the striker and in the blink of an eye he flashed a low shot from the edge of the box past the despairing dive of O'Neill.
BALLYMENA UNITED: O'Neill, Kelly, McClean, Haveron, Albert Watson, Flynn, Picking, Scates, Melaugh, Kelbie, Aidan Watson. Subs: Reid, Lowry, King, Fitzgerald, Murphy.
CRUSADERS: Shannon, Magowan, McBride, Montgomery, Hunter, Doherty, Tumelty, Lockhart, Coulter, Rainey, Morrow. Subs: Reilly, Caldwell, Lenaghan, McAllister, Hogg.
Referee: David Best (Carnmoney).