Belfast Telegraph

McAllister's goal to get Linfeld over the line

By Graham Luney

It wasn't a case of teenage kicks being so hard to beat when Mark McAllister's early Irish Cup adventure ended in heartbreak.

McAllister missed from the penalty spot in a shoot-out at Windsor Park in the 2007 final as Dungannon Swifts tasted despair and Linfield celebrated a second straight 'double'.

Alan Mannus saved McAllister's effort but those demons have been exorcised with the striker going on to win the glittering trophy three times at Linfield – and scoring three goals in the three deciders.

Featuring for Linfield in that game were Glenn Ferguson and Jim Ervin – two men who are now firmly in the Ballymena United camp as the Sky Blues arrive at Windsor Park tomorrow for the tie of the sixth round.

With the Blues already in the final of the County Antrim Shield and going for title success, a treble mission is alive but McAllister knows the path to glory is far from smooth.

"I was only around 17 when I lost that final with the Swifts," said McAllister who was linked with a move to Celtic before joining Linfield.

"I missed the last spot-kick and it wasn't a nice introduction to the Irish Cup but it's been very positive since then and hopefully that continues.

"It's a brilliant day out for the fans and an incredible atmosphere in the final. But you have to earn your place in the final and Ballymena United are looking very strong again after Glenn (Ferguson) has got them going.

"Jim (Ervin) will be back to kick all of us and over the last six months they have really progressed as a team."

After Linfield's disappointing 1-0 loss at Cliftonville which allowed the Reds to regain top spot with a win at Ballymena United this week, McAllister accepts it's the nailbiting time of the season – or squeaky bum time as former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson would say.

"I think we all knew the title race was going to be a fight to the finish," he added.

"Ourselves and Cliftonville have kept up the challenge while Crusaders and Portadown aren't far away from us.

"All we can do is keep doing our best and go for the three points in every game.

"We aren't putting too much pressure on ourselves. The manager has strengthened the squad and even though a lot of players have left the club and new faces have come in we have managed to sustain a challenge.

"I'd say Cliftonville are the favourites to win the league as they are the champions and have a more settled side than us.

"That gives them a slight advantage. While we were disappointed to lose at Solitude I think most people would say it was a close game."

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