Ballymena United 1-2 Cliftonville
Goals in the 96th and 97th minutes saw Cliftonville stage an incredible late turnaround to lift the County Antrim Shield.
Trailing to a Ballymena United side who had taken the lead early in the secondr-half through Leroy Millar, the Reds looked down and out until substitute Thomas Maguire stole in to convert from close range after keeper Jordan Williamson had failed to hold Conor McMenamin’s low drive.
With Extra Time looking inevitable, Cliftonville launched one last attack which paid off when Ryan Curran stroked into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to spark wild celebrations among a previously despairing Red Army in the North Stand.
United came close to taking a ninth minute lead when Jude Winchester’s free-kick delivery was nodded on by Millar and Adam Lecky connected at the back post, only to steer his header inches wide of the upright.
Cliftonville should have had a penalty soon later only for referee Raymond Crangle to dismiss the appeals in the wake of Jonny Addis cleaning Joe Gormley’s legs out from beneath him ahead of a McMenamin free-kick being comfortably fielded by Williamson.
McMenamin tried his luck again before and, after Conor McDermott had steered an effort wide, Williamson was called into action to claw Michael McCrudden’s strike out.
The Reds – who were forced into a half-time change that saw the injured Garry Breen make way for Seanna Foster – began the second period brightly and should have broken the deadlock was Gormley threaded Ruaidhri Donnelly through only for the striker’s timid effort to take a touch off Scot Whiteside before Williamson turned it behind.
Within minutes, the ball was in the net at the other end when Andy McGrory’s wicked cross whistled beyond the reach of Richard Brush and Millar – who had appeared offside when the ball was delivered – made no mistake.
The same player went close to doubling Balymena’s lead with a shot that went just wide before Williamson almost gifted Cliftonville an equaliser in unlikely circumstances when he needed two attempts to grasp another McDermott effort.
As the clock ticked down, the Reds found openings more difficult to come by as Ballymena’s well-drilled defence stood firm – and David Jeffrey’s side almost made sure of victory on 88 minutes when Lecky’s chip from the edge of the box landed on the roof of the net.
When the Fourth Official signalled for an additional seven minutes, the Red Army let loose with one last inspirational roar in their bid to influence a last-gasp revival – and they got their reward deep, deep into injury-time.
McDermott darted down the left flank and clipped over a cross which McMenamin did well to control before firing in a shot which Williamson failed to hold, allowing the alert Maguire to pounce from close range.
A combination of relief and joy had barely subsided by the time Cliftonville struck again. This time, Donnelly spread the play wide on the right and Maguire supplied the cross. Once again, it was a McMenamin shot that was blocked and, when the ball found its way to Curran just inside the area, he stroked through a crowded penalty area and set off in celebration amid scenes of carnage in the North Stand.
Cliftonville: Brush, McDermott, Breen (Foster, 46 mins), Harney, R Donnelly, McCrudden (Maguire, 81 mins), Bagnall (Curran, 68 mins), Doherty, Gormley, McMenamin, A Donnelly.
Unused subs: Dunne, Ives, Wilson, McCurry.