CO. ANTRIM SHIELD: Ex Crue sends Linfield on way to Shield success

Linfield's Cameron Stewart celebartes after heading the Blues into a 1-0 lead in Tuesday night's 
Toals County Antrim Shield final at the Showgrounds in Ballymena. (
Photograph by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

Linfield's Cameron Stewart celebartes after heading the Blues into a 1-0 lead in Tuesday night's Toals County Antrim Shield final at the Showgrounds in Ballymena. ( Photograph by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

David Healy’s wait for a managerial trophy is over.

His Linfield side won the County Antrim Shield with a 3-1 win over rivals Crusaders - a victory set in motion by a third minute opener from Cameron Stewart.

Linfield's Cameron Stewart celebartes after  heading the Blues into a 1-0 lead in Tuesday night's 
Toals County Antrim Shield final at the Showgrounds in Ballymena. (
Photograph by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

Linfield's Cameron Stewart celebartes after heading the Blues into a 1-0 lead in Tuesday night's Toals County Antrim Shield final at the Showgrounds in Ballymena. ( Photograph by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

The teenage striker ironically signed for the Blues from Crusaders last summer as a centre-back but didn’t take long to show his old club just how useful he is at the other end of the pitch.

Mark Stafford and the shining Stephen Lowry were also on target to deliver only the Blues’ second trophy in five seasons.

Jordan Owens had made it 2-1 shortly after Paul Heatley’s 30 minute dismissal but in the end, it proved scant consolation.

A swift start, two troublesome corners and within 12 minutes, Linfield were 2-0 ahead.

Crusaders Paul Heatley trudges off after being shown a first half red card at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

(Photo: Matt Mackey / Press Eye)

Crusaders Paul Heatley trudges off after being shown a first half red card at the Ballymena Showgrounds. (Photo: Matt Mackey / Press Eye)

Niall Quinn whipped in the first set-piece and Stewart rose to power home a header.

The second arrived with a little less panache but when Mark Stafford bundled home Kirk Millar’s corner at the back post, Crusaders had it all to do.

Their wicket got even stickier on the half hour mark when Paul Heatley was given a straight red for a supposed elbow on Linfield centre-half Mark Stafford.

But the desperate nature of their situation with an hour of this final still to play awoke the league champions from what had been a sleepy first 30 minutes.

Linfield's Mark Stafford pokes home at the back post to make it 2-0 to the Blues. (
Photograph by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton)

Linfield's Mark Stafford pokes home at the back post to make it 2-0 to the Blues. ( Photograph by Presseye/Stephen Hamilton)

Jordan Owens headed in a lifeline just three minutes after the dismissal, looping a superb effort into the opposite top corner from a Colin Coates cross.

The Crues could even have been level by the break but Owens hit the side netting when he volleyed an inch perfect long ball and then David Cushley forced only a routine save from Gareth Deane with a typically skilfull overhead kick.

Linfield certainly seemed to be finding the 10 men of Crusaders more troublesome than the 11 had been. That theme continued after the break as the Crues pushed relentlessly on in search of an equaliser.

Cushley looked the most likely man to get it as he looked at home in his old stomping ground. Before the hour-mark, he had fired in two warning-shots - the first flying over the crossbar and the second deflected just past a worried Deane’s post.

Linfield’s concerns, however, weren’t destined to last.

Their minds were put at ease with just over 10 minutes remaining as masterful midfield maestro Lowry smashed home a spot-kick after Howard Beverland had fouled Andy Waterworth.

The striker had begun to cause problems. A few minutes earlier he forced a strong save from Sean O’Neill after Stewart’s header set him racing clear. Then he beat keeper O’Neill to a hopeful long ball and was scythed by Beverland.

And that put the icing on the cake of a super sweet night for David Healy.

CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Beverland, Coates, Carvill, Cushley (Holden 71), Forsythe, Owens (Suarez 88), Snoddy, Keane (Mitchell 80), Heatley. Unused Subs: Dougherty, Clarke.

LINFIELD: Deane, Stafford, Haughey, Callagher, Quinn, Lowry, Mulgrew, Millar, Clarke, Stewart (Smyth 80), Millar.

Unused Subs: Carroll, Ward, Casement, Fallon.