Jeffrey hails 'top drawer' Leroy Millar as Ballymena earn another League Cup final spot
Crusaders 0 Ballymena Utd 1
Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey last night saluted the mental strength of his players after they punched their ticket to the final of the BetMcLean League Cup.
Leroy Millar's second-half goal took the Sky Blues to their third successive decider - they will now meet Linfield in the showcase occasion on February 16.
The victory also extended Ballymena's unbeaten streak to a staggering 16 games, dating back to the end of September. They have now created their own little niche in the club record books by winning their last 11 matches.
An elated Jeffrey beamed: "To come to the home of the current league champions and turn in a performance like that was fantastic. I know they had a difficult weekend when beaten by Linfield, but our players are both physically and emotionally giving everything at the moment.
"It was a hard-fought contest, both teams were very committed, but we managed the game so well.
"I think one goal was always going to win it and I don't think anyone could deny us our place in the final."
Jeffrey also heaped praise on match-winner Millar, stating: "He's a hometown lad, who has committed himself to the club. He has got better and better.
"His performance was top drawer and I'm so delighted for him getting the winner."
For Crusaders, still suffering a hangover from their defeat at Windsor Park on Saturday, it was another poor night at the office.
United, breaking quickly on the counter-attack, almost achieved a breakthrough on 27 minutes. Cathair Friel picked out the strong-running Millar with a delicious pass through the middle and, after holding off Howard Beverland, his low drive stung the hands of an alert Ger Doherty.
The usually dependable Johnny Addis was then guilty of being caught in possession by David Cushley six minutes before the interval and, when he picked out the unmarked Ross Clarke, he could only drag his shot wide.
There was still time for Doherty to establish himself with two brilliant saves when he spread himself to get a fingertip to a low drive from Millar before he repeated the act to deny Friel, somehow managing to push the striker's downward header past the post.
The game erupted for all the wrong reasons on 55 minutes when Cushley appeared to push United skipper Jim Ervin into the perimeter fence, which sparked a free-for-all in front of both dugouts. Referee Tim Marshall duly booked Beverland, Cushley and Adam Lecky when the dust settled.
After all his good work, Doherty was almost embarrassed when he left his line to deal with a Steven McCullough free-kick and, misjudging the flight of the ball, his outstretched glove managed to deflect over the top.
But United at last forged ahead on 69 minutes. Kofi Balmer's raking pass sent Jude Winchester hurtling down the left. He fired in a great cross that was knocked on by Friel for Millar to finish.
The Crues attempted to come back off the ropes with Cushley's cross being cleared to Philip Lowry, but his mis-hit shot was easily gathered by Tom McDermott.
Crusaders thought they had levelled on 73 minutes when Cushley slotted home, but eagle-eyed ref Marshall had already blown for a free-kick after Gary Thompson had fouled McDermott.
Friel almost put the icing on the cake with a great piece of skill but, with only Doherty to beat, he screwed his shot wide.