Pressure mounts on David Healy as Linfield's trophy hopes end
Coleraine, Reds face giant killers in semis
Linfield boss David Healy is under renewed pressure after his Irish Cup holders were knocked out by Cliftonville on a night of quarter-final drama.
Joe Gormley's winner for the Reds at Windsor Park turned up the heat on Healy while Coleraine edged out Glentoran 1-0 and newly cash-rich Larne joined their Championship rivals Loughgall in the last four by rocking Ballymena United 2-1.
It's the first major return from Purple Bricks millionaire Kenny Bruce's investment in his home town club.
The semi-finals will be played on Saturday, March 31, with the Bannsiders, beaten finalists last year, on course to finish the job this time round but they must see off Larne while Cliftonville face Loughgall, conquerors of Glenavon.
Blues boss Healy, who steered the club to the league title, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield last season, was under huge pressure to keep his side's challenge for silverware alive but the Reds piled on the heartbreak with Gormley's 80th minute strike settling the tie.
Eighteen points behind Premiership leaders Crusaders, Linfield knew their title defence was over but this Irish Cup loss means Healy will face more anger from disillusioned fans.
"We should have been out of sight but that's football," said Northern Ireland's record goalscorer.
"If you don't take chances, you don't win games. For large parts we were the better side, but you have to be clinical and ruthless in front of goal - that's why we are out of the cup.
"We had some good chances and didn't take them. It's a sore one to take. It was our last chance of silverware."
The north Belfast boys haven’t got their hands on the famous old trophy since 1979 and the class of 2018 now have every chance of ending that hoodoo.
And the way the Red Army celebrated, they are all too aware of the significance of the result.
Boss Barry Gray beamed: “We have big players for big games and tonight just summed that up, both Joe for scoring and Ruairi Harkin for supplying the pass. It’s great when I can take a player like (Harkin) off the bench in a game of such magnitude.
“Joe certainly put the ball away, but for me it was a wonder ball — it was a striker’s dream.
“It came at a good time. Linfield struggled to build any momentum after it. We were happy enough to put everyone behind the ball and see it out.”
Inspired by Loughgall’s victory over Glenavon, Larne — who have received a significant cash injection from Purplebricks founder and multi-millionaire Kenny Bruce — rocked Ballymena with a Thomas Stewart header and Kyle Owens’ own goal negating a Tony Kane penalty.
Larne boss Tiernan Lynch said: “We will be underdogs again but we will do our homework and try to enjoy the semi-final. Two Championship sides would be a nice final but we have a tough game ahead.”
After Darren McCauley’s winner floored the Glens, Coleraine boss Oran Kearney said: “We are delighted to be in the semis. The objective was to get there, it should be a really exciting tie.
“The Glens had four up front but Chris Johns does what he does. People will keep talking about us and mention the league and Cup double but we just focus on the next game.”
Meanwhile, Ballinamallard coach Steve Feeney has stepped down following the resignation of manager Gavin Dykes.