Penalty joy for Ballymena United as they reach Irish Cup final

Ballymena United fought back from a goal down to beat derby rivals Coleraine on penalties and seal a place in Friday evening's Irish Cup final.

Ballymena Unite players celebrate as Ben Doherty misses the crucial penalty
Ballymena Unite players celebrate as Ben Doherty misses the crucial penalty

The Sky Blues looked to be dead and buried as they trailed to Eoin Bradley's first half spectacular free-kick with the game deep in stoppage time.

But Substitute Kenny Kane, who hails from Dervock near Coleraine, popped up in th 94th minute to take the game into extra time.

With no more goals it was on to the lottery of spot kicks and it was the Bannsiders who ran out of steam with trusted penalty takers Stephen Lowry, Bradley and Ben Doherty all failing to convert.

Ironically it was Stephen McCullough, who got an eleventh hour reprieve to play as his suspension was overturned, who slotted home Ballymena's decisive third penalty and send his side into the final.

The sides took to the pitch with a ripple of applause from the officials from both clubs watching on from the stands.

A minute's applause was held in honour of the NHS and the fight against racism.

The Sky Blues had the first opportunity as Tony Kane curled a free kick wide of the target on six minutes.

Coleraine had the ball in the net two minutes later as skipper Stephen O'Donnell headed in Ben Doherty's free kick from close range, but it was chalked off for offside.

The Bannsiders were the dominant force and were denied by a superb save from Ross Glendinning on 14 minutes as Eoin Bradley latched on to Jamie Glackin's corner, but the keeper produced an excellent save to tip over the bar.

Another swift break down the right two minutes later saw Glackin leave two defenders in his wake before he whipped a great ball across the face of goal, which Doherty just failed to make contact with from close range.

Ballymena were struggling to find their rhythm with their first shot on target coming on 42 minutes as another Kane free kick was easily taken by Chris Johns in the Coleraine goal.

The opening arrived in first half stoppage time, and what a strike it was.

Aaron Jarvis was felled on the edge of the box and up stepped Bradley to curl home a delightful opener for Oran Kearney's men.

Seven minutes after the restart David Jeffrey made a triple substitution to try and get his side back into the contest.

James Knowles, Andy McGrory and Leroy Millar all coming on for Ryan Harpur, Tony Kane and Jude Winchester.

It was the Bannsiders though who looked the most likely to score as Doherty spurned a great opportunity to grab the second on 57 minutes.

He could only direct his close range effort wide of the near post after good work from Josh Carson.

The Sky Blues started to look more like an attacking threat and McGrory's deflected effort on 67 minutes forced Johns into action.

That man Bradley almost wrapped the game up or Coleraine with ten minutes to go when he stepped up for another free kick.

This time though it whistled past the post and crashed off the back stanchion with Glendinning watching on.

Seven minutes additional time was shown spurring on David Jeffrey's men.

And in the 94th minute they grabbed an equaliser as substitute Kenny Kane slotted home from close range after Coleraine failed to clear their lines.

Right at the death Glendinning produced another great stop to deny James McLaughlin.

Into extra time and McLaughlin went close for Coleraine before Canning produced a great block to deny Kane a second.

Both sides huffed and puffed in the second period of extra time without ever really troubling either keeper so it was on to penalties.

Experienced campaigners Jim Ervin and Stephen Lowry both missed before Andy McGrory put the Sky Blues in front.

Eoin Bradley fired wide before James Knowles made it 2-0. Jmaes McLaughlin pulled one back, but when Stephen McCullough fired home the pressure was on Ben Doherty and he watched in horror as his spot kick flew over the bar to send United through to friday's final.

Coleraine: Johns, Kane, Traynor (McGuckin 89), Mullan (Canning 46), O'Donnell, Jarvis (Parkhill 75), Lowry, Doherty, Glackin (McLaughlin 65), Bradley, Carson.

Subs: Gallagher, Douglas, McLaughlin, McConaghie

Ballymena United: Glendinning, T Kane (McGrory 52), Whiteside, Ervin, Addis (Aa Burns 88), McCullough, Winchester (Millar 52), Harpur (Knowles 52), Kelly, Friel (K Kane 88), Lecky.

Subs: Williamson, Balmer

Referee: Keith Kennedy

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