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Pride in defeat for Ballymena United

It's the nature of penalty shoot-outs that for every Darren Kelly and David Miskelly there has to be an Aaron Stewart.

While his crucial miss may not live as long in the memory as Chris Waddle or Gareth Southgate’s similar experiences, for Sky Blue fans it ensured that the years of hurt remain at 21 and counting.

But all credit to a player who wasn’t even born when Ballymena United last lifted the Irish Cup back in 1989 for having the courage to step forward and take the vital fifth kick.

It wasn’t the finest penalty Windsor Park has ever witnessed and, while Miskelly’s save sparked celebrations galore for Portadown, it was a much different story in the Sky Blue corner.

It was a shame that there were so few people there to witness it in a sparsely populated national stadium and the IFA will surely have to abandon any future thoughts of Saturday evening kick-offs. Thanks for trying, but no thanks.

That was far from manager Roy Walker’s mind though as he pondered how his side had lost a game which they threatened to win after Andy Smith’s stunning 65th minute strike.

Noel Anderson was twice denied by wonderful saves from Miskelly, with the big keeper also thwarting Mark Surgenor, before going on to save Chris Ramsey and Stewart’s efforts in the shoot-out.

Walker was full of pride though in his young side, and Stewart in particular, for the courage he displayed in volunteering to take the ultimate test from 12 yards.

“I think he has enough character about him to be lifted,” said Walker.

“I’ll have no problems with Archie, he’s a good lad and he’ll be well comforted at home by his dad (Alfie) who has been around a few corners in football.

“Men step forward. Chris (Ramsey) missed as well and credit to the keeper for a good save.

“Archie’s wasn’t a great strike but he was happy to take the fifth penalty and it was a big one as it turned out, but he’s not a villain, he’s a hero in my book.”

One man who is nut such a hero for Walker, who has now lost in eight cup semi-finals, was referee Adrian McCourt, who ruled out a Kevin Kelbie ‘goal’ with just nine minutes on the clock.

“We thought that we’d scored a perfectly good goal but the referee deemed there was an infringement inside the box,” he explained.

“At the other end, the keeper has made a mistake. He should have punched when he tried to catch it, didn’t do that and they scored a goal.

“The keeper thinks he was fouled and I must confess my initial reaction was that I thought there was an arm up but I couldn’t see and I wouldn’t like to say the ref got that wrong or right, but he was quick to blow for one at the other end when we had the ball in the net.”

Walker also admitted that bodies were thin on the ground when it came to choosing who would face the shoot-out lottery.

“I confess we had difficulties getting five penalty takers, naturally that was difficult,” he said.

“We practiced them on Thursday night and on Saturday. Everybody that took penalties said they wanted to, but there was no major stampede.

“But I’m very proud of our players, I thought they played really well I know we were underdogs but I genuinely felt we played better football.

Belfast Telegraph