Comeback Crues break Ballymena hearts

Crusaders 4 - 3 Ballymena United (after extra time)
Published Tuesday, 17 December 2013
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Crusaders will face holders Cliftonville in the League Cup final in January after coming from 3-1 down to see off Ballymena United in a gripping semi-final clash at Seaview on Tuesday night.

Comeback Crues break Ballymena hearts
Crusaders’ Jordan Owens pictured after scoring his team’s fourth goal. (© Pacemaker)

While the Reds were on their way to a predictable win over Ards in the other semi-final Crusaders had to dig deep to extend their unbeaten run to 24 games after United's David Cushley stunned them with a first half hat-trick.

Crusaders had the first shot on goal when Nathan Hanley saw his drive blocked by Tony Kane.

David Cushley went even closer a few minutes later with a free kick which just flew wide of Sean O'Neill's right post.

Ballymena struck the front on 24 minutes when a teasing cross from Tony Kane was met by Cushley from close range and the ball flew past Sean O'Neill.

It got even better for United three minutes later when Cushley again had the ball in the net, this time a brilliant shot from the edge of the box after being set up by Gary Thompson.

However, Crusaders battled back within sixty seconds to reduce the deficit when a hopeful cross from Declan Caddell clipped the far past and spun into the net and it was game on again.

A superb first half for Ballymena and Cushley was complete when the striker bagged his hat-trick in 27 minutes with a determined run to nick the ball away from the keeper and thump into the empty net.

Cushley was unlucky not to bag a fourth early in the second half with another stinging drive that came back off the post and was cleared.

Caddell restored hope for the Crues with his second goal of the night, getting down to react quickly to head home after a free kick by Gary McCutcheon rebounded off the bar into his path on 66 minutes.

The drama continued four minutes later and it was all square at 3-3 after sub Paul Heatley went down under a challenge by Kane referee Colin Burns pointed to the spot and Gary McCutcheon sent the keeper the wrong way.

Paul Leeman glanced a header off the top of the bar as Crusaders went in search of the winner.

It was United who could have won it in normal time but Alan Teggart drove his shot wide of the goal.

On 98 minutes the comeback was complete when a Morrow corner was met unchallenged by Jordan Owens and he made no mistake.

With just a few minutes to go there was one final chance for Ballymena to force a penalty shoot-out but O'Neill made a great save to deny Cushley who had got behind the Crues defence.

Meanwhile there were to be no upsets or as much drama in the other semi-final at Clandeboye Park as Tommy Breslin's side saw off Ards.

The Reds grabbed the lead on 26 minutes after a sweetly struck free kick by Martin Donnelly beat Graeme McKibbin in the Ards goal.

That lead was doubled just before the break when a mistake by the Ards keeper gifted a chance to Joe Gormley and he made no mistake.

Cliftonville had beaten their opponents 4-0 on Saturday and Ards must have feared a repeat scoreline but they battled back especially in the second half and were unlucky not to pull a goal back on a couple of occasions.

It was only in the last ten minutes of the tie that the Reds really showed their class and Liam Boyce had two efforts to add to the tally but he wasted both and it finished 2-0 to the cup holders.

© UTV News
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CHRIS BRENNAN
It's a two-horse race now, but one even the most-seasoned pundit would be brave to call.
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