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Coleraine Match Preview

Uploaded Wednesday, 22nd Jan, 2020 at 09:38

Date: Tuesday, 21st January, 2020; Competition: Toals Co Antrim Shield - Final; Attendance: N/A;
Cliftonville [0] [2]
Ballymena United [0] [1]
Venue: National Stadium; Kick-Off: 19:45;
Referee: Raymond Crangle;
[0-1] MILLAR, Leroy (54 mins), [1-1] MAGUIRE, Thomas (90 mins), [1-2] CURRAN, Ryan (90 mins)

BALLYMENA United suffered the cruellest of heartbreaks as they conceded twice in added time to lose 2-1 to Cliftonville in the Toals Co. Antrim Shield Final at the National Stadium.
United welcomed back Adam Lecky after suspension, with Andrew Burns, Scot Whiteside, Jude Winchester and James Knowles all coming into the starting line-up after defeat at the weekend to Glenavon.
The final wasn't exactly a spectacle for a large support for both sides in the opening half hour with neither side causing either 'keeper any real problems. In amongst the half chances Lecky was a matter of inches away from getting on the end of a Knowles free kick, while Conor McMenamin hit a tame free kick straight at Jordan Williamson. In an evenly matched half the sides traded a couple more openings later on in the 45 minutes. Winchester tried to catch Brush out at his near post but could only drag his shot wide, and only minutes later Conor McDermott created a carbon copy of Winchester's attempt at the other end.
The best chance of the half fell five minutes from the break and came the Reds' way. Michael McCrudden was picked out in space at the edge of the box but his low, drilled effort was well stopped by Williamson before Burns cleared up the aftermath. Towards the dying embers of the half Andy McGrory dipped a free kick from 25 yards just over, as Ballymena probably just shaded a largely uneventful first half.
The second half more than lived up to its billing in a final and the North Belfast side would probably have been ahead inside three minutes of the restart had it not been for a vital Burns block to deny McCrudden. A minute later Burns' game was over when he pulled up trying to stop Joe Gormley on the attack, who carried on and fed Ruaidhri Donnelly, but he was denied by a timely block by McGrory who deflected the ball towards Williamson who saved well. Burns was replaced by Reece Glendinning.
On 54 minutes the breakthrough in the game came via The Sky Blues' captain on the night, Leroy Millar. Some neat, patient build up play ended with a perfect cross from McGrory that just the right height to evade Brush, and Millar was on-hand to tap the ball home to delight those in the South Stand.
The Braidmen kicked on from the opener and strung together some of their better moves in weeks, the highlight of which a free-flowing move involving McGrory, Winchester, Lecky and Millar, with the latter firing narrowly over from 20 yards in the end. Cliftonville weren't creating a host of chances, mainly due to near-flawless defending from United, particularly from Jonny Addis, but when they did break through Williamson produced a magnificent save with his legs to deny Gormley, before Williamson saved again from McDermott.
There was a bit of a lull in the game in the game for the final fifteen minutes as United edged closer to victory, but they suffered another injury blow two minutes from time when an impressive Knowles limped off, replaced by Josh Kelly. Ballymena almost sealed in on 89 minutes in incredible circumstances when Lecky lobbed Brush from the edge of the box, with the ball agonisingly landing on the roof of the net.
A couple of lengthy injury delays meant seven minutes of time added on and in the fifth of these Cliftonville looked to have sent the game to extra time when McMenamin's low cross was parried out by Williamson to sub Thomas Maguire, who finished from close range.
However, there was remarkably still time for more drama and incomprehensible heartache for Ballymena as Cliftonville somehow snatched the Shield in the final minute. Another low ball into the box was cleared out as far as Ryan Curran, but from the edge of the box he curled an effort into the bottom corner past Williamson to leave the United fans beyond stunned.
After a string of poor performances everyone in Sky Blue to a man put in an outstanding performance, but it was a case of so close, so far on the evening, and the North Belfast man lifted the Toals Co Antrim Shield.
Ballymena United travel to Belfast again on Saturday afternoon to face Crusaders at Seaview, kicking off at 3:00pm.
Match Report by Phillip McPeake
Ballymena United Team:
Jordan Williamson, Jonathan Addis, Scot Whiteside, Cathair Friel, James Knowles ( Joshua Kelly 88), Steven McCullough, Andrew Burns ( Reece Glendinning 50), Andrew McGrory, Jude Winchester ( Aaron Burns 90), Adam Lecky, Leroy Millar.

Subs not used: Ross Glendinning, Tony Kane, Declan Carville, Ross Lavery.