Ballymena United 1-2 Cliftonville
By Paul Alexander
Cliftonville completed a stoppage-time turnaround to lift the County Antrim Shield on Tuesday evening in what was a heartbreaking night for Ballymena United at the National Stadium at Windsor Park.
The Braidmen came closest to an opening goal in the early stages of the encounter. Jonny Addis was first to head James Knowles’ free-kick from the left before Adam Lecky’s aerial attempt was deflected wide.
Conor McMenamin forced a couple of openings mid-way through the first-half. Initially, the right-winger’s free-kick from the right was cushioned by Jordan Williamson. The Ballymena keeper then held a shot from McMenamin seconds after.
Michael McCrudden, a recent signing from Derry City, forced a save from Williamson in the 37th minute. Centre-back Andrew Burns helped his goalkeeper as he denied McMenamin the chance to follow up.
Reds winger Ruaidhri Donnelly tried to give his side the lead three minutes after the restart. The 27-year-old’s close-range shot from the left deflected off Scot Whiteside and into the hands of Williamson.
Although it would United who would move ahead on 54 minutes. Andy McGrory delivered a fine ball from the right-wing and Leroy Millar – the Sky Blues’ captain on the night – tapped in at the back post. The midfielder had another chance two minutes later but his shot was wide of the left post.
Cliftonville almost levelled the scoreline at the other end of the pitch through Joe Gormley. The centre-forward was supplied by Aaron Donnelly but his low effort from inside the six-yard box was stopped by the left boot of Williamson.
On 66 minutes Conor McDermott aimed for the bottom right corner although Williamson managed to keep the ball out. With just over 10 minutes of normal time to go, Ballymena’s Addis dispossessed Gormley before continuing to push forward. This resulted in the centre-back being at the end of the move but his attempt was held by Richard Brush.
Sky Blues striker Lecky produced a shot from a central position which was deflected wide of the right post on 84 minutes. The 28-year-old tried to chip the ball into Brush’s net from the edge of the penalty area five minutes later although he was unsuccessful.
The north Belfast drew level after five of the seven added minutes. McMenamin’s low cross was directed away from goal before Thomas Maguire made it 1-1. Fellow substitute Ryan Curran completed the turnaround when he curled the ball into the bottom right corner in the final minute.
Ballymena United: Williamson, Addis, Whiteside, Andrew Burns (Reece Glendinning, 50), McCullough, Knowles (Kelly, 88), Winchester (Aaron Burns, 94), Millar, McGrory, Friel, Lecky
Subs not used: Ross Glendinning, T. Kane, Carville, Lavery
Cliftonville: Brush, A. Donnelly, Breen (Foster, 46), Harney, McDermott, Doherty, Bagnall (R. Curran, 68), R. Donnelly, McCrudden (Maguire, 81), McMenamin, Gormley
Subs not used: Dunne, Ives, Wilson, McCurry
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)
In-Touch Man of the Match: Conor McMenamin (Cliftonville)