LINFIELD 3 LURGAN CELTIC
Aaron Burns hit a glorious second half hat-trick to take Linfield into the May 7 Tennent’s Irish Cup final.
But David Healy’s team were taken to the wire by a battling Lurgan Celtic, who were given a standing ovation at the finish of an energy sapping 90 minutes at Windsor Park.
Healy was dealt a blow prior to kick as star man Ross Gaynor failed to shake off an injury sustained the the thumping 6-2 midweek win at Warrenpoint Town.
Little Paul Smyth, who missed the last two games due to his involvement with the Northern Ireland Under-19 international side, was drafted in along with Mark Haughey, and Stephen Lowry.
Celtic chief Colin Malone named the the same side that caused one of the biggest cup shock for many years in the last round when they sent Portadown crashing out -- a result that ultimately cost manager Ronnie McFall his job -- except for suspended goalkeeper Conor McCorry, who was replaced by Gavin O’Neill.
The Blues should have been in front on five minutes. Smyth’s pace took him clear of his marker Daniel Wilson and when he crossed, Andy Waterworth looked a likely scorer, but he somehow shot wide.
Celtic had another left off four minutes later when Kirk Millar’s corner kick found Waterworth, but his header crashed off the crossbar.
Make-shift goalkeeper O’Neill was called to action for the first time on 15 minutes, getting down smartly to clutch a Lowry shot, following a sweet move involving Millar.
But the visitors displayed their attacking potential on 20 minutes when Aaron Haire managed to wriggle away from his marker only to see his shot superbly beaten away by Ross Glendinning.
Normal service resumed at the other end with Linfield squandering another great chance when Smyth shamefully volleyed over the crossbar from six yards following a cute knock down from Millar.
Linfield had to wait until the 60 minutes before they nudged in front.
Inevitably it was Millar who provided the cross and when the ball fell to Burns, he couldn’t believe his luck, tapping home from close range.
Blues goalkeeper Ross Glendinning then had a real let-off when Dale Malone’s free kick squirmed through his hands and was fortunate the ball rolled harmlessly wide.
But Linfield did grab a killer second with 11 minutes left. Burns again displayed his predatory instincts when thumping home a Lowry free kick.
Burns finished the job in injury time when he rammed a spot kick past O’Neill after Lowry had been hauled down by Shane McCabe.
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth (Moore 90), Lowry, Millar (Quinn 67), Burns, Ward, Clarke, Mulgrew, Smyth (Fallon 82).
Subs not used: Bates, Reece Glendinning.
Lurgan Celtic: O’Neill, Wilson, Rodgers, Hutchinson, Cochrane (McCabe 87), Malone, Barton, McVeigh, Fitzpatrick ( S Devlin 75), Haire, Conaty ( N Devlin 75).
Subs not used: Seeley, O’Hara.
Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Belfast).