Sensational Paul Smyth lifts David Healy's Linfield
Linfield 2-0 Carrick Rangers
The Linfield rollercoaster ride will rock up at the County Antrim Shield final next month.
David Healy has been through a number of ups and downs since becoming Blues boss two months ago.
Now, after enduring an alarming dip when the club went through their worst league run in 18 years when they suffered four straight defeats during November, the Northern Ireland legend is just one game away from his first trophy as manager.
The Blues didn't get it easy, but deserved to take a place in the County Antrim Shield final after beating Carrick Rangers 2-0 at Windsor Park.
Second-half goals from Niall Quinn and Mark Stafford saw them through after Andy Waterworth missed a first-half penalty and they will now face Ballymena United in the decider on Tuesday, January 12.
It was, however, teenage striker Paul Smyth - a youngster that Healy has put his faith in - who shone the brightest.
He won the penalty that Waterworth missed, set up the first goal and should have capped his classy performance with one of his own.
Smyth gave Carrick a warning as to what he is all about after 10 minutes when he refused to give up on Stafford's long clearance and chased the ball all the way to the byline before shooting into the side netting from a tight angle.
Linfield were handed a golden opportunity to open the scoring on 28 minutes when they were awarded a penalty.
Jamie Mulgrew played a superb penetrating pass in between the Carrick defenders. Smyth had spun off his marker and collected the ball just inside the box and was taken out by Brian Neeson as he attempted to round the Carrick goalkeeper.
Referee Andrew Davey had no option but to point to the spot. Somehow Neeson remained on the pitch, without even a yellow card as punishment, and he guessed correctly, diving to his left to push Waterworth's penalty around the post.
Five minutes after his spot-kick save, Neeson pulled off an even better stop. Kirk Millar connected beautifully with Smyth's cross, after a corner had been played back to him, and the keeper produced an outstanding flying save to flick the ball over.
Carrick were close to opening the scoring just before half-time. Miguel Chines pushed the ball past Jimmy Callacher as he cut in from beside the corner flag and collected it on the other side before delivering a low cross into the goalmouth, where Adam Dick was just beaten to the ball by Stafford, who sent it out for a corner.
Carrick were even closer to breaking the deadlock six minutes into the second-half. Dick knew little about Joe McNeill's low cross as it came to him a yard out. If he had been more aware he would have put Carrick in front, but he only had a split second to react and put the ball over.
They were left to rue that miss just five minutes later when Linfield scored to take control of the game and it was Smyth who was instrumental.
He chased the ball into the left channel and showed great awareness by pulling it back for Quinn, who tucked home into the bottom right corner from 12 yards.
Smyth had a great chance to double the lead on 62 minutes when he collected a headed clearance 20 yards out. He cut inside and attempted to chip Neeson, but didn't put enough power into his effort.
Linfield made sure of their place in the decider on 75 minutes, with Quinn involved again. This time he delivered a great corner from the right and Stafford rose unmarked inside the six-yard box and powered a header low into the turf and over the line.
LINFIELD: Ross Glendinning, Reece Glendinning, Stafford, Callacher, Clarke, Millar (Frazer 87 mins), Ward, Mulgrew (Burns 87 mins), Quinn, Smyth, Waterworth.
Goals: Quinn 56, Stafford 75.
Subs not used: Deane, Haughey, Bates.
CARRICK RANGERS: Neeson, McCloskey, Doyle (Kane 73 mins), Kelly, Trainor (Browne 78 mins), Roy, Harmon, herry, McNeill, Dick (Surgenor 60 mins), Chines.
Subs not used: Johnston, Taggart.
Man of the match: Paul Smyth
Match rating: 8/10
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)