Andy Waterworth has the final say for Linfield with double
Ballymena Utd 1 Linfield 2
Andy Waterworth's glorious double last night earned Linfield a slot in the final of the County Antrim Shield.
The big 32-year-old, making his 250th appearance for Linfield, was simply too hot to handle for David Jeffrey's Ballymena United at the Warden Street Showgrounds.
Waterworth's party piece brought his goal tally to 22 for the season so far - and he has now bagged a sensational 145 in the famous blue shirt.
Substitute Cathair Friel did grab a late lifeline for United, but that was as good as it got.
The result means the Sky Blues' chances of a possible clean sweep of trophies have now been torpedoed - it was only their second defeat in 22 starts - but it's still very much on the cards for David Healy's boys.
Surprisingly, David Jeffrey reshuffled his pack, making six changes to the team that defeated Dundela in the Irish Cup on Saturday, preferring to leave Shane McGinty, Friel, Steven McCullough, Jim Ervin and Johnny McMurray on the bench, while he was deprived of the services of suspended striker Adam Lecky.
Blues chief Healy reinstated Josh Robinson, Niall Quinn and Kirk Millar to his starting eleven.
It was a case of third time lucky as the game had been postponed on two previous occasions because of a waterlogged pitch, and Healy's lads will face Crusaders in the final on February 5.
Linfield were ahead on 29 minutes. Chris Casement sent Jordan Stewart hurtling down the right and, when he flighted the ball to the back post, Niall Quinn knocked it back across the face of the goal for Stephen Fallon, whose shot was touched over the line by Waterworth.
With the clock ticking down to half-time, Linfield began to turn the screw. Skipper Jamie Mulgrew sent Quinn free on the left with a wonderful pass with the outside of his right boot.
When the midfielder returned the favour, Mulgrew's powerful drive was somehow charged down by Johnny Addis.
Fallon had the ball in the net on 52 minutes, finishing off a Stewart cross, but eagle-eyed referee Andrew Davey had spotted the midfielder had strayed into an offside position.
Linfield really should have been further in front seconds later. Quinn produced another delicious delivery from the left which was met by the unmarked Millar, who could only direct his header wide of the target.
Then, at the other end, Ryan Mayse gobbled up a rare mistake by the unflappable Jimmy Callacher, but just as he was about to pull the trigger, Casement came in to tidy up.
But the Blues did grab a killer second goal just before the hour mark.
Joel Cooper jinked his way into the box before squaring for Stewart, whose low drive was superbly beaten out by Ross Glendinning only for that man Waterworth to ram home the rebound.
Jeffrey attempted to salvage the situation by introducing strike pair McMurray and Friel for Mayse and Matthew Shevlin.
And they grabbed a lifeline with 13 minutes remaining. Out of nowhere, McMurray looped in a great cross from the right and the unmarked Friel did the needful with a simple header.
Casement almost re-established his team's two-goal cushion on 83 minutes only to see his raking 25-yard drive crash against the post.
Unused subs: McCullough, Ervin.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Glendinning, Kane, Quigley, Addis, Whiteside, Mayse (Friel, 64 mins), Knowles, Faulkner (McGinty, 83 mins), Shevlin (McMurray, 64 mins), Balmer, Harpur.
LINFIELD: Carroll, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth, Cooper (Clarke, 86 mins), Stewart (Mitchell, 86 mins), Millar, Fallon, Mulgrew, Quinn, Casement.
Unused subs: Deane, O'Connor, Kearns.
Man of the Match: Andy Waterworth (Linfield)
Referee: Andrew Davey