Belfast Telegraph

Healy's Linfield answer critics in best fashion as the Windsor trophy cabinet is open again

Ballymena Utd 0 Linfield 1

Drink up: Josh Robinson helps Niall Quinn, Jordan Stewart, Matthew Clarke and Kirk Millar get the party started
Drink up: Josh Robinson helps Niall Quinn, Jordan Stewart, Matthew Clarke and Kirk Millar get the party started
Jamie Mulgrew

By Graham Luney

Fortune not only favours the brave - it favours those with a point to prove.

Linfield boss David Healy, his management team and players took a battering last season after a disastrous campaign.

The only way to answer those doubters was to unlock the trophy cabinet again.

As they left Windsor Park with the BetMcLean League Cup, courtesy of Andy Waterworth's smart first half finish, you could see the relief in their eyes and the weight lift off their shoulders.

There is pride in defeat for Ballymena United but in a Cup final that is no consolation. Healy has completed his set of domestic medals but more importantly the Blues are back in the business of winning trophies.

Last season was a real horror show, a wake-up call for the club but they are flexing their muscles again.

The Linfield defence, which has earned praise all season, was magnificent again and while United threw the kitchen sink, the kettle and the microwave at them, they lacked the guile to find a way through.

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The man of the match award naturally went to a Linfield defender, Jimmy Callacher, who epitomised the spirit and fighting qualities of a team that has been so hard to beat all season long.

The League Cup is back in Linfield's hands for the first time in 11 years but the celebrations cannot continue for long with a reunion in the Danske Bank Premiership at the same venue on Saturday.

League glory is the prize the Blues dream of the most and this victory should give them the momentum to edge closer to that goal.

The Sky Blues were appearing in their third consecutive League Cup decider and, driven on by manager David Jeffrey's hunger, there was little doubt they would show more fight than last year's decider when they surrendered meekly to Dungannon Swifts.

Their second-half performance, in particular, was stunning but this game is about goals and taking your chances.

Jeffrey acknowledged his men came up short a year ago mentally, physically and emotionally. This time there was a steely determination but no end product.

Linfield led 1-0 at the interval thanks to a cool and composed finish from Waterworth but United should have cut off the supply to the man who has now scored 22 goals in 38 League Cup games.

Josh Robinson was allowed the freedom of Windsor Park to charge through the midfield and when the ball fell to Waterworth he clearly escaped Jonny Addis and poked a sublime finish behind keeper Ross Glendinning. It was the one ruthless touch in a first half which was cagey, tense and devoid of a creative spark in the final third.

In the seventh minute, Linfield had a fortunate escape when James Knowles' drive deflected onto the post. On such fine margins games can be decided.

Waterworth struck as the clock turned to 15 minutes and United were unable to replay with Adam Lecky's header from a Knowles free-kick disappearing over the crossbar.

Keeper Gareth Deane dealt with Leroy Millar's ambitious effort and Glendinning, making his 100th appearance for United, comfortably held Niall Quinn's shot from distance.

Half-time came at just the right time for heads to cool down after Jim Ervin clattered into his old team-mate Jamie Mulgrew and Quinn shoved Ervin in anger. Both received yellow cards and now the final had a real feisty edge.

Tony Kane replaced Knowles during the break and United started the second half brightly as Cathair Friel's effort deflected off Callacher and away to safety.

Steven McCullough's corner then struck the post and Friel blasted the rebound high over the woodwork.

At the other end Kyle McClean's effort from Jordan Stewart's cross deflected wide and then Callacher made a vital intervention to stop McCullough surging forward.

Deane tipped Friel's header over the bar as United continued to boss the second half.

Johnny McMurray replaced Jude Winchester in the 74th minute as Jeffrey looked to unlock the Blues defence.

Josh Robinson's header flew wide of the post and Andy McGrory"s effort sailed wide of the woodwork.

Matthew Shevlin came on for Andy McGrory but there was no late twist.

There is no tougher test than taking on the Blues at Windsor in a final but United left the stadium with their pride not just intact but enhanced.

Linfield used all their experience and quality to get their hands on the trophy and that's all that matters.

It only needs one bit of magic to win a game and Waterworth remains the man for the big occasion.

"I was playing a centre midfield role in the second half chasing shadows!" afterwards.

"I was sweating for my place, the two other boys have been doing very well which is great because you need a big squad to challenge for silverware and I've probably been below par for a few weeks.

"For David to give me the shirt was brilliant.

"He phoned me on Friday morning as I was driving to work and it made my day.

"I was able to concentrate on the game and hopefully I've repaid him. Ballymena are direct and hard to play against.

"We realised with 15 minutes to go that we had to hold what we had and that's the sign of a good team.

"I'm not taking anything away from United but I'm delighted with our boys because they were so selfless."

The man who Jeffrey brought to the Blues would have felt a little guilty in the post-match commiserations... but not too much.

Not when you've doubters to silence.

BALLYMENA: Ross Glendinning, McGrory (Shevlin, 82 mins), Balmer, Ervin, Addis, McCullough, Knowles (Kane, 46 mins), Winchester (McMurray, 73 mins), Millar, Lecky, Friel. Unused subs: McDermott, Quigley, Whiteside, Faulkner.

LINFIELD: Deane, Casement, Callacher, Robinson, Clarke, Millar, Mulgrew, McClean, Stewart (O'Connor, 67 mins), Quinn, Waterworth. Unused subs: Mitchell, Stafford, McGivern, Forde, Kearns, Cervenka.

Referee: Andrew Davey

Man of the match: Jimmy Callacher

Match rating: 7/10

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