Ballymena United 4 - H&W Welders 0
Adam Lecky made a timely return to action to guide Ballymena United into a third Toals County Antrim Shield final in five years.
The big striker, whose season has been interrupted by injury and suspension, scored a hat-trick as the Sky Blues swept aside the challenge of Championship side Harland & Wolff Welders at the Showgrounds.
Lecky took just 11 minutes to open his and Ballymena’s account.
Jude Winchester was brought down on the edge of the penalty area and as players from both sides looked towards referee Tony Clarke, the official played a good advantage and Lecky had time and space to place a shot past Ryan Miskelly.
The Welders were almost level with two minutes as Ross Arthurs got past a couple of tackles on the edge of the Ballymena penalty area and his low cross was swept narrowly wide by Matthew Ferguson.
Ballymena continued to have the majority of the play with Andy McGrory’s cross from the right was helped back across goal by Kenny Kane and defender Lewis Harrison had to be alert to prevent a tap-in for Lecky, while Winchester’s shot from 20 yards shaved the crossbar on its way over.
A two-goal Ballymena blast inside two minutes just short of the half-hour mark ended the game as a contest.
The first came on 25 minutes when Steven McCullough outmuscled David Graham on the left touchline and then provided a perfectly weighted cross for Lecky to score via the inside of the post.
Within two minutes it was 3-0 as Shane McGinty attempted to get into a shooting position, two Welders defenders and keeper Miskelly got into a terrible mix-up in their attempts to clear, presenting the United midfielder with an open goal.
Despite that double setback, the east Belfast side attempted to find a way back into the game and Ryan Deans fired a shot from outside the area which was superbly turned around the post by United keeper Jordan Williamson.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first period and Lecky completed his hat-trick six minutes into the second half with a simple header from a pinpoint left wing cross from strike partner Kenny Kane.
With the scent of more goals in their nostrils, Ballymena came close again when Winchester’s fierce strike was beaten out by Miskelly.
Winchester will feel he should have done better on 63 minutes when Andrew Burns’ through ball split the Welders’ defence, leaving the midfielder racing clear but he could only drag his shot tamely wide.
Ross Arthurs forced Williamson into a sharp save from a header but there were few other anxious moments for the Premiership side as they cantered into the final against Cliftonville on January 21.
Ballymena United: Williamson, Burns (sub Reece Glendinning 77), Ervin, Addis, McGrory, McGinty, Carville (sub T Kane 46), Winchester, McCullough, K Kane, Lecky (sub Lavery 74). Subs (not used): Ross Glendinning, Balmer, Brown, Warnock.
H&W Welders: Miskelly, Dornan, Curran, Harrison, McMurray (sub Wright 63), Deans, D Davidson (sub Gwiazda 63), S Davidson, Arthurs (sub Smith 70), Graham, Ferguson. Subs (not used): McMurtry, Nixon, McPhee, Grierson.
Referee: Tony Clarke (Newtownabbey).
Match rating: 7/10
Man of the match – Adam Lecky (Ballymena)