Co Antrim Shield: David Cushley’s injury-time goal seals trophy thriller for Crusaders over Linfield

Crusaders celebrate success in the dramatic Toals County Antrim Shield final with a 4-3 win over Linfield. Pic by Pacemaker.
Crusaders celebrate success in the dramatic Toals County Antrim Shield final with a 4-3 win over Linfield. Pic by Pacemaker.

David Cushley grabbed a sensational injury-time winner to help Crusaders retain the Toals County Antrim Shield on a night of drama at Seaview.

The holders were staring down the barrel of defeat as they trailed David Healy’s Linfield 3-2 with only two minutes left on the clock.

But, backed by a gusting breeze, they fought back to pinch a famous win with a late double whammy.

Linfield will certainly be scratching their heads, wondering how they let this game get out of control.

Strikes from Mark Stafford and Kirk Millar, plus an own goal from Colin Coates had them in control, leading 3-1 at the break.

But there was just no stopping Cushley, who added to his first-half goal with that late party piece - while Coates and Jordan Forsythe were also on the scoresheet.

The Blues forged ahead after only eight minutes – a goal that will give Sean O’Neill nightmares. The goalkeeper flapped hopelessly at Millar’s in-swinging corner-kick and Stafford dived to head home from practically on the line.

Healy’s boys almost struck again but Millar’s shot was deflected into the side-netting.

Having weathered the storm, the Crues began to ask a few questions at the other end. Rory Hale’s cross from the left on 19 minutes found the head of the towering Jordan Owens, whose effort arrowed past the post.

The diminutive Cushley then managed to escape the clutches of his marker, twisting and turning on the edge of the box but his low shot was expertly saved by Conor Mitchell.

Cushley had better luck on 29 minutes. Declan Caddell’s cross was smuggled into the path of the little striker and his belting low drive from the edge of the box exploded past Mitchell.

The home fans were still celebrating when the Blues restored their lead 60 seconds later. Andy Waterworth capitalised on a slip from defender Billy Joe Burns and, when he rattled in a low drive, O’Neill could only touch the shot into the path of Millar, who tapped home.

And, it got even worse for the home team on 30 minutes when they gifted the Blues a third with a defensive calamity. Millar’s cross was met by Burns, whose clearing header ricocheted off the unfortunate Coates and into the net.

O’Neill then made up for his early blunder when he produced a smart save to keep out a Chris Casement 35-yard free-kick.

Crusaders attempted to repair the damage as the half-time clock ticked down when Cushley got a touch to a Burns free-kick, but Mitchell got down to beat away Caddell’s low drive with his outstretched boot.

Baxter’s team, now with the wind advantage, thought they had reduced the deficit six minutes after the restart when Forsythe finished off a cross from substitute Ross Clarke, but referee Lee Tavinder had spotted an offside infringement.

Sean Ward was then just out of luck with a raking drive from the edge of the box that was deflected wide.

But Coates did haul the Crues back into it on 61 minutes. He roared forward to meet a devilish corner-kick from Forsythe and his header ballooned the net.

The same combination almost did it again two minutes later, but this time the skipper’s header rapped the outside of the post.

Linfield responded with Josh Robinson only inches away from converting a Niall Quinn corner-kick before O’Neill produced an astonishing reflex save to keep out a spectacular Stafford scissors-kick.

Crusaders peppered their opponents’ goal looking for an equaliser. They had appeals for a penalty kick waved away when Ronan Hale’s shot was blocked by the body of Stafford before Kyle Owens’ header crashed over the top.

But the home fans were off their seats two minutes from time. Cushley’s corner-kick fell to the unmarked Forsythe and he blasted home from four yards.

And, it got even better for the Crues. Forsythe returned the favour with a superbly struck free-kick for Cushley to bullet home with the flick of his head.

CRUSADERS: O’Neill, Burns, Coates, Lowry (Ronan Hale 77), Ward, Cushley, Caddell, Forsythe, Ruddy (K Owens 46), J Owens, Rory Hale (Clarke 46).

Unused subs: Snoddy, Doherty.

LINFIELD: C Mitchell, Stafford, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth, Stewart, Millar, Clarke, A Mitchell, Quinn, Casement.

Unused subs: Deane, Kearns, McClean, McGivern, Cervenka.

REFEREE: Evan Boyce.