Linfield show ruthless streak to fire Healy closer to first trophy
Linfield 6 Ards 1
Linfield made short work of Ards at Windsor Park in one of the most one-sided semi-finals you're ever likely to see.
David Healy's men booked their place in the final of the Toals Bookmakers County Antrim Shield with a fine display of passing football that a lacklustre Ards simply couldn't cope with.
Perhaps the scale of the defeat can be partially explained by Ards boss Niall Currie's decision to rest six first-team players from the starting side, with both eyes firmly fixed on Friday night's Premiership clash with Ballinamallard United, but that shouldn't be allowed to detract from this fine Linfield display.
With Healy desperate to collect his first piece of silverware as a manager, he took no chances. His full-strength side started with an intensity that saw them score three goals in the opening 20 minutes.
Andy Waterworth opened the scoring against his old club in the 11th minute. Ards forward Carl McComb was caught on his heels, allowing the Blues to take a quick free-kick that was pushed into the path of Chris Casement.
The right-back cut the ball across goal, where Waterworth was only too happy to steer beyond Aaron Hogg.
It was 2-0 in the 16th minute with Waterworth on the mark again. The Ards defence was sliced open with a through ball, which allowed the Crossgar man to use his pace to run into space. Waterworth kept his cool to slot past Hogg with ease.
The Blues added another two minutes later. Niall Quinn found himself in ample space on the left flank, and crossed the ball into the area. The ball bounced around inside the six-yard box before Paul Smyth pounced.
Just when Ards thought they had stopped the rot, they conceded another soft goal in the 32nd minute. Once again they failed to spot a quick Linfield free-kick as the Blues passed the ball around Ards players like they were training cones.
Eventually, it was Kirk Millar who found the net. He dinked over Hogg and an Ards defender, with the ball dropping just inside the far post.
Through the gloom, Ards managed to pull a goal back 11 minutes into the second half when substitute Joe McKinney was clipped inside the penalty box. Michael Ruddy stepped up to the spot and slotted the ball past Gareth Deane to end Ards' run of 327 minutes without a goal.
The away side, although never likely to get back into the tie, performed much better in the second period. A McKinney shot found the side netting, Kyle Cherry's 20-yard effort forced Deane into a tipped save and Frenchman Guillaume Keke fired over when he really should have hit the target.
At the other end, Hogg thought he had kept the score down when he made a superb save from Mark Haughey, denying the centre-back's close-range effort. However, from the resulting 79th-minute Stephen Lowry corner, Haughey sent a powerful header high into Hogg's net.
It was 6-1 in the 86th minute. The lively Smyth cut in to round Hogg, before stroking the ball into the unguarded net.
Linfield manager Healy will now be hoping it will be third time lucky when his side face Stephen Baxter's Crusaders - who beat PSNI last night - in the final on Tuesday, January 24.
Under Healy, the Blues lost last year's Shield final to Ballymena United and the Irish Cup final to Glenavon.
LINFIELD: Deane; Casement, Haughey, Callacher, Quinn; Lowry, Ward (Gaynor 65), Mulgrew, Millar (Carson 80); Smyth, Waterworth (Frazer 80)
Subs not used: Fallon, Glendinning
ARDS: Hogg; Hall, McMullan, Brennan, Friars, Ruddy; Tommons (Liggett 69), Cherry, Arthurs (McCullough 46); McComb (McKinney 46), Keke.
Subs not used: Byers, Rea
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)