Penalty delight for Ballyclare Comrades
Ballyclare Comrades boss Paul Harbinson last night punched the air with delight after his team pulled off one of the shocks of the season by dumping Crusaders out of the ToalsBet.Com County Antrim Shield at Dixon Park.
It make have taken a dramatic spot kick shootout to separate the teams, but there was no disguising the delight in the home camp at the finish.
The Comrades got off the best possible start, roaring into a two-goal lead after only seven minutes through Joe Tully and a Jordan Owens og.
But the Premiership lads stormed back in the second half with Jordan Forsythe bagging a double to send the game into a penalty shootout.
Joe Tully, Ciaran Dobbin, Robert Weir, Owen Taylor and Adam McCart were all successful from the spot for the Comrades – Gary Donnelly was the only culprit – with Liam Hassin hitting the vital winner after Crusaders kid Joel Thompson had fluffed his lines.
Ballyclare are now joined in the last four by the Irish League big guns Linfield, Larne and Cliftonville.
Stephen Baxter’s boys only returned to action at the weekend after being out of commission due to a Covid outbreak in the camp.
They did come back with a bit of style, winning 4-2 at Warrenpoint, where as the Comrades’ surge at the top of the Championship table took a blow when beaten 3-0 at home to Loughgall.
It was an experimental Crusaders side, with manager Stephen Baxter taking the opportunity of handing James Holland, Brandon Bradshaw, Thompson and Lewis Barr are rare first team opportunity.
The Comrades hit the visitors with an early double whammy – they were two goals up inside seven dramatic minutes.
Big Tully wasted on time in crashing a low shot past the diving Johnny Tuffey after only three minutes following a great piece of work on the right by Ciaran Dobbin. And, it got even getter for the Comrades when Owens headed into his own net four minutes later.
Adam Gray whipped in a delicious corner kick from the right, which caused pandemonium in the home defence which resulted in the big striker, usually so lethal at the other end, deflecting the ball past Tuffey.
The shell-shocked Crues attempted a response Ross Clarke, out for much of the season injured, tried his luck from distance, but his shot flew harmlessly over the top.
But Ross was right out of luck on 12 minutes when his 20-yard free kick crashed back off the post. Jordan Owen was first to react, but his low shot was saved by Richard Purcell.
The Comrades could have been out of sight on 24 minutes when Tully chased down a long ball, skipped past the challenge of Tuffey, but instead of rolling the ball into the empty net, the big striker elected to try and find Adam Gray and the chance was gone.
Forsythe was introduced at the interval and what an impact he made.
The Crues were back in it when Donnelly flattened substitute Aidan Wilson inside the box on 55 minutes. Referee Tony Clarke immediately awarded a penalty kick and Forsythe sent Purcell the wrong way.
He did it again five minutes later. This time rising to meet Thompson’s corner kick and his booming header ballooned the net.
BALLYCLARE COMRADES: Purcell, McCune, Ramsey, Hassin, Tully, Dobbin, Fletcher, McCart, Gray, Herron (Taylor 80), Donnelly.
Unused subs: Dougherty, Woods, Mathieson, McGrath, Edge, Monaghan.
CRUSADERS: Tuffey, Hegarty, Weir, Frazer, Black (Forsythe 46), Owens, Clarke, Holland (McMurray 70), Bradshaw (Wilson 45), Thompson, Barr.
Unused subs: O’Neill, Kennedy, Lecky, O’Rourke.
REFEREE: Tony Clarke.