CRUSADERS 2 BALLINAMALLARD 1
Matthew Snoddy’s last-minute strike earned Crusaders a place in the quarter-finals of the BetMcLean League Cup after a night of drama on the Shore Road.
Battling Ballinamallard United looked set to pull off the shock of the third-round games when they led the Irish League champions, courtesy of a Michael Glynn goal, with only nine minutes remaining.
United have lost eight of their nine games in the Bluefin Sport Championship games so far which means they are rooted at the bottom of the table, but that poor form certainly wasn’t evident at Seaview.
It took a Kyle Owens leveller to spare Stephen Baxter’s boys’ blushed before Snoddy produced a late party piece to book the Crues a slot in the last eight in the tournament.
The Premiership side bossed possession and they really should have taken advantage on 13 minutes when Michael Carvill’s corner kick caused havoc in the United defence, which resulted in Gary Thompson’s header arrowing wide.
Baxter’s boys threatened again on 25 minutes. This time Philip Lowry and Ross Holden carved open the visiting defence on the right and, when the young midfielder’s cross found Cushley on the edge of the box, he could only fizz his shot over the top.
After soaking up the early pressure, United had their first sight at goal on 29 minutes. When the impressive Darragh McBrien was flattened by a crude challenge from Rodney Brown, former Crusaders midfielder Richard Clarke lined up the 25-yard free that fell tamely into the arms of Harry Doherty.
Attacking menacingly on the flanks, Cushley was only inches away from establishing the lead when Sean Ward’s pin-point cross looked destined for the head of the diminutive striker only for Ryan O’Reilly to track back and flick clear.
Then, in a final raid before the interval, Michael Ruddy’s teasing cross from the left against found Cushley, who could only direct his header into the arms of veteran shot stopper John Connolly.
The Crues domination continued after the half-time cuppa. Harry Doherty’s monster clearance sent Cushley hurtling down the left, but his wickedly driven low cross was superbly mopped up by the covering ross Taheny.
Cushley was looking the likely candidate to break the deadlock. He was right out of luck on 57 minutes, stooping low to meet a Holden corner kick only to see his header flash over the top.
But it was the visitors who shocked the home crowd by sneaking into the lead on 65 minutes.
John Edgar’s low cross found the impressive Glynn on the edge of the box and the 16-year-old managed to toe-poke the ball into the bottom corner.
Baxter’s boys piled on the pressure with Connelly saving from Lowry and Jordan Owens before the big substitute gobbled up a wonderful pass from Sean Ward and, after turning Ben McCann, his low drive failed to trouble Connolly.
Substitute Rory Patterson was then right out of luck with a vicious 20-yard strike that rapped the base of the post before the former Derry City man forced Connolly into a wonderful save with a curling, dipping effort from distance.
The Crues were level nine minutes before the finish. Michael Ruddy’s cross found big Kyle Owens and his header looped into the net, giving Connolly no chance.
Rodney Brown almost won it for the home team three minutes from the end, but he shamefully headed Glackin’s corner kick over the crossbar from point blank range.
But the home fans were celebrating right on the final whistle. Snoddy picked up a flick from Jordan Owens and, having spotted Connolly off his line, he lobbed home a brilliant effort.
CRUSADERS: Doherty, Lowry, Ward, Glackin, Carvill, Cushley (Patterson 75), Holden (J Owens 57), K Owens, Ruddy, Brown, Thompson (Snoddy 63).
Unused subs: O’Neill, McChrystal, Heatley, Clarke.
BALLINAMALLARD UNITED: Connolly, Taheny, Smyth (McCann 72), Clarke, McCartney, Kelly (McManus), McIlwaine, Glynn, Edgar, O’Reilly, McBrien (Arkinson 83).
Unused subs: Elliott, Robb.
REFEREE: Shane Andrews.