Linfield 2 Crusaders 2
Fasten your seatbelts for another Irish Cup roller coaster ride next week.
Some matches don’t live up to their pre-match billing but this fifth round scrap at Windsor Park had just about everything…. apart from a winner.
It was a superb advertisement for Irish League football with two heavyweights exchanging blows in a contest featuring considerable tension, controversy and feisty challenges.
There was a goal after 11 seconds, a controversial second strike for Linfield, an horrific injury to Crues keeper Sean O’Neill resulting in midfielder Chris Morrow leaping off the bench to don the gloves, a red card for Blues defender Johnny Black and some lucky escapes for the Cup holders at the finish.
Both managers were left scratching their heads at the final whistle, not quite sure whether they were still lucky to be in the competition or that they should in the sixth round already.
Although Stephen Baxter’s men came close to snatching the win through a David Rainey header and a Paul Heatley shot that drifted just wide, Linfield will probably be kicking themselves with a little more force.
Black’s dismissal on 42 minutes, for a careless lunge on Aidan Watson, gave the Crues the encouragement to go on and force a replay. Referee Colin Burns got that call right but some Linfield fans thought Declan Caddell should also have seen red after a tasty collision with Michael Gault.
The Crues midfielder protested his innocence afterwards, saying: “It was competitive. There were hard challenges from both sides and it’s just part of the game, you have to get on with it. David (Jeffrey) was upset at some things but he’s just passionate about the game.”
The Shore Road men got off to the dream start when Gary McCutcheon netted after only 11 seconds. Brian McCaul levelled the scores on 20 minutes but O’Neill landed awkwardly in the process. The diagnosis is a dislocated shoulder, bringing a season littered with stunning performances to a premature and painful conclusion.
Caddell added: “It’s really disappointing losing Sean O’Neill. He’ll be out for a long time and it’s a huge loss. In my opinion he’s the best keeper in the league and I’m absolutely gutted for him.”
Matthew Tipton fired Linfield in front in the 38th minute, the officials refusing to intervene despite confusion over an offside call or whether all the ball had crossed the line. Television replays failed to show the latter but Burns was confident it had.
Ten minutes after the restart Timmy Adamson stabbed home the equaliser, leaving Jeffrey with mixed emotions.
“Part of me is pleased at how the boys toughed it out,” he said. “The players worked extremely hard. When they scored so early in the second half I thought they would pile the pressure on and it would be their day.
“But another part of me says the sending off really hurt us. I don’t think it would have been a sending off in my playing days but I can understand why the referee did it. In the context of how the game is played today the referee had no choice.”