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Linfield 1-0 Dungannon Swifts: Stephen Lowry goal gives Blues victory

Tennent's Irish Cup semi-final at Mourneview Park

By Adrian Rutherford

A last-gasp strike from Stephen Lowry sent Linfield into the Irish Cup final.

The midfielder scored in the 89th minute against Dungannon at Mourneview Park.

In an absorbing semi-final, the Swifts pushed the Blues all the way - only to lose at the death.

The winner came when Haughey crossed and Lowry took possession, flicked the ball up and fired home.

A first half of no goals saw Dungannon create the best chance, Douglas Wilson heading over from Jarlath O'Rourke's corner.

The Blues were awarded a penalty six minutes into the second half.

Wilson dived in on Jamie Mulgrew, resulting in a spot kick, but Lowry’s effort was saved by goalkeeper Andy Coleman.

The Swifts almost nicked it through sub Peter McMahon in the 81st minute. His deflected effort was brilliantly saved by Roy Carroll.

Lowry scored the winner soon afterwards to send Linfield through.

LINFIELD: Carroll, Stafford, Haughey, Callacher, Clarke, Lowry, Burns, Mulgrew, Quinn (Millar, 78), Smyth, Waterworth

Subs not used: Ward, Casement, Carson, Deane

DGN SWIFTS: Coleman, Burns, Hegarty, Armstrong, O’Rourke, WIlson, Harpur (Teggart, 89), Clucas, Glackin, Burke (McMahon, 56), Mitchell

Subs not used: Addis, Fitzpatrick, Lowe

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)

Preview

Although the Blues have a Tennent's Irish Cup semi-final date with Dungannon Swifts at Mourneview Park this afternoon (3pm), there's a realisation that every match between now and the end of the season has a cup final feel to it.

Trailing league leaders Crusaders by four points with only five matches left, and with the top two meeting at Windsor Park next Saturday, the pressure is on David Healy's men to find a way of winning all their remaining matches.

The players will either thrive or crumble under that pressure, but they have already shown their steel by passing the Irish Cup quarter-final test against Crusaders at Seaview.

Centre-back Stafford is well aware the heat is on but he's confident the squad will keep their cool and silence the doubters.

"It's been like that since Christmas for us, one big game after another," said the 29-year-old.

"I didn't think we played well against Ballinamallard last weekend but we showed the kind of character in the second half that has been missing from the team in the past.

"Our mental strength has been improving and I've been in dressing rooms before when there was some panic at being 1-0 down, but we remained calm and the players have a lot more trust in one another.

"When we didn't win a trophy last season the only people we could turn to were our team-mates.

"Everyone outside the dressing room was pointing the finger at us and saying we were weak and the team lacked leaders, character and mental strength.

"But although the squad hasn't changed much there's a very different feeling and approach to the team this season.

"The manager has shown a lot of trust in us and we trust one another. That's important when you need to dig in and get results.

"When the pressure built up last season we didn't react in the right manner but I believe we are stronger physically and mentally now.

"We have shown in the County Antrim Shield final we can handle pressure and in that Irish Cup quarter-final game against Crusaders the pressure was unbelievable.

"To go out of the Cup and be seven points behind Crusaders in the title race would have been a hammer blow but the boys are more experienced now and know what needs to be done.

"You've got to be able to win big games of football if you want to win big trophies."

Healy has attempted to lift some of the pressure off his men by saying he doesn't view the Swifts as being underdogs in today's scrap in Lurgan.

The Blues boss commented: "That doesn't wear with me nor does it wear with my players.

"With the players they have, I am not buying it. Dungannon are more than capable of winning the game."

Former Ballinamallard United ace Stafford added: "It's another huge test for us and the stakes are high in a semi-final but I feel we have learned a lot of lessons from previous disappointments."

The Blues have a spring in their step after 12 wins and a draw in their last 13 matches.

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