Amateur League side Willowbank secured this season’s fonaCAB Irish Junior Cup after defeating holders Enniskillen Rangers on penalties.
The west Belfast team won the penalty shoot-out 4-2 after the final was tied at 1-1 after 110 minutes-plus of entertaining action at Shamrock Park in Portadown tonight. Both teams had been reduced to 10 men prior to the drama.
Willowbank goalkeeper Ciaran Kelly scored one of the penalties and saved another as they prevented the Fermanagh and Western League team from claiming the trophy for the fourth year in a row.
Willowbank captain Eamon Hughes scored first in the shoot-out before Jason Keenan netted for Rangers. Ciaran Manson scored before Rangers captain Neil Coulter missed the target. Kelly then hit the back of the net and Ciaran Smith also scored. However, after substitute Liam Prigent made it four in a row for the Amateur League outfit, Kelly saved Richard Johnston’s spot kick to seal the victory for his team.
The first chance of the behind closed doors game fell to Willowbank winger Connor McCullough but his effort was just off target.
Then Mark Cutler found Keenan free from his marker in the box but the Rangers striker scooped the ball over the top. It was a great opportunity.
Down the other end Willowbank midfielder Pearse Devine shot wide after slipping in behind the Rangers defence.
Keenan, who scored a hat-trick for Rangers in their semi-final victory over Bessbrook United, curled an effort just past the post before Rangers player-manager Michael Kerr produced a decent effort from a free-kick.
On 22 minutes McCullough whipped in a lovely cross from the right across the face of goal but the Willowbank strikeforce just failed to connect with the ball.
Willlowbank centre forward Thomas McCrory and winger Ryan McAreavey constantly pressed and probed, however the Enniskillen defence stood firm with captain Coulter and fellow centre back Johnston in particular remaining solid.
On the half-hour mark a slip by a Willowbank defender allowed Keenan to engineer a one on one with the Willowbank keeper but he shot straight at Kelly.
Willowbank had a strong penalty claim when Ciaran Winchester was caught in the chest by Johnston’s boot inside the area but referee Gavin Morgan waved play on.
On the stroke of half-time Willowbank controversially took the lead from the penalty spot. The penalty was awarded when Winchester collided with Kerr inside the area, but Winchester appeared to run into the Enniskillen defender.
Willowbank captain Hughes stepped up to smash the ball past Rangers keeper Gareth Barbour into the top corner.
At the start of the second half Devine hit the bar with a powerful shot and then Rangers thought they had equalised when James Turley played in Keenan as the Willowbank defence stood still but the forward lobbed the ball against the post.
The introduction of substitutes Stuart Rainey and Jake Browne gave Enniskillen an energy boost and Willowbank’s defence had to be on their toes to keep Rangers at bay.
Rangers equalised in the 77th minute following a period of pressure. Christopher Currie produced some fancy footwork down the left before finding Keenan at the back post and his close range shot dropped over the line just before Turley tapped the ball into the net.
Rangers player-manager Kerr was then shown a red card for a rash challenge on Willowbank substitute Declan Gill.
Substitute Richard McAvoy missed a good opportunity when a mix-up in the Enniskillen defence saw the ball land at his feet but he guided his shot inches wide of the post.
The lively Gill was hauled down right at the death by Johnston just outside the area. Hughes took the free-kick and his crisp strike went inches wide of the upright.
In the first period of 20 minutes of extra time Willowbank substitute Richard McAvoy swept the ball to Gill at the far post but he shot wide. Moments later Kelly had to be on his toes to push a drive from Rangers substitute Nathan Khan round the post.
Willlowbank substitute Ryan McCabe forced Barbour into a good save before Prigent steered a shot wide of the target.
Devine saw red just before the end when he was sent off for a second bookable offence. He hauled down Rangers sub Jamie Robinson.
Then came the dramatic penalty shoot-out in which Willowbank proved to be spot kick masters.
Enniskillen Rangers: Gareth Barbour, Conor Watson, Michael Kerr, Michael Simpson, Richard Johnston, Neil Coulter (captain), Mark Cutler, Ciaran Smith, Jason Keenan, James Turley, Christopher Currie. Substitutes: (used) Jake Browne, Stuart Rainey, Matthew Chambers, Nathan Khan; (not used) Jamie Robinson.
Willowbank: Ciaran Kelly, Christopher Heaney, Gary Manson, Eamon Hughes (captain), Ciaran Manson, Nathan Garland-O’Neill, Ryan McAreavey, Pearse Devine, Thomas McCrory, Ciaran Winchester, Connor McCullough. Substitutes: (used) Richard McAvoy, Michael Savage, Declan Gill, Ryan McCabe, Liam Prigent.