Crusaders pay the penalty as Ballymena clinch semi-final place
Ballymena United 1, Crusaders 1
(aet, Ballymena win 3-2 on pens)
Crusaders’ bid for a hat-trick of successive Toals County Antrim Shield triumphs is over after they were knocked out of the competition in a dramatic penalty shootout at the Showgrounds.
Goalkeeper Jordan Williamson saved two spot kicks to send Ballymena United into the semi-finals after the sides had remained deadlocked at 1-1 after extra time.
With both managers opting to give some fringe players game time, the first opening went the way of the visitors as a Crusaders corner was only cleared to edge of penalty area but Declan Caddell’s shot on the turn was straight at Jordan Williamson.
From Ballymena’s first attack on 10 minutes, Ryan Mayse’s free kick was headed powerfully wide by Scot Whiteside.
But the Sky Blues had much more success on their next venture forward two minutes later as Shane McGinty collected a Josh Kelly pass 25 yards from goal and showed good strength to hold off a challenge from Sean Ward before rifling a left-footed shot beyond a motionless Sean O’Neill and into the top corner of the net from just outside the area.
Crusaders attempted to find a way back into the game but Jamie McGonigle’s shot on the turn went wide of Williamson’s near post.
But the Seaview levelled on 32 minutes with a goal of trademark quality from David Cushley.
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The former Ballymena player collected a Michael Ruddy throw-in from the left and dropped his shoulder to go past Scot Whiteside before arrowing a shot into the top corner of the net with his less-vaunted right foot.
Buoyed by that, the winger almost went even better on 36 minutes when he spotted Williamson off his line and let fly from inside the centre circle. The ball seemed to slip through the grasp of the back-pedalling keeper but fortunately for Williamson, it drifted wide of the post.
Ballymena almost regained the lead five minutes before the interval when McGinty slipped a pass to Ross Lavery, playing in an unfamiliar right-sided role and he was able to cut inside onto his left foot but his curling effort smacked off the far post.
The second half lacked the intensity of the first period but Ross Lavery’s low shot, which fizzed just wide, had keeper Sean O’Neill scurrying anxiously across his goal.
Ballymena had a late chance to win the game when Mayse’s through ball sent Friel scampering clear but the striker was forced wide and couldn’t get enough pace on his shot.
In the first period of extra time, Reece McGinley’s corner caused havoc in the Ballymena penalty area but Declan Caddell’s diving header could only hit the side netting, while Ross Clarke’s well-struck free kick was acrobatically turned over the bar by Williamson.
At the other end, O’Neill had to be alert to palm away Mayse’s fiercely-struck corner from under the crossbar.
In the second period of extra time, Ballymena substitute Leroy Millar nodded the ball down for the unmarked Mayse who completely miskicked with the goal at his mercy.
As the game went to penalties, back-up United goalkeeper Williamson emerged as the hero as he saved spot kicks from Rory Hale and Ross Clarke as they Sky Blues progressed to the last four.
Ballymena United: Williamson, Addis, Whiteside, Burns (sub Ervin 85), Lavery, McCullough, Kelly, McGinty (sub Millar 91), Carville (sub Harpur 91), Mayse, Friel. Subs (not used): Glendinning, Kane, McGrory, Winchester.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Ward, Owens, O’Rourke, Ruddy, Brown, Caddell (sub Heatley 103), Hale, Cushley, McGonigle (sub Clarke 91), McElroy (sub McGinley 71). Subs (not used): Doherty, Coates, Robinson, Mathieson.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).
Match rating 6/10
Star man: Sean Ward (Crusaders)
Belfast Telegraph Digital