Ballymena United booked their place in the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup final after defeating Larne 2-0 at Seaview tonight.
NIFL Premiership leaders Larne were expected to win the last four contest, however David Jeffrey’s Ballymena upset the apple cart with a dogged display.
And the underdogs scored two excellent goals – through Craig Farquhar and Dougie Wilson – to deservedly reach the 7 May decider.
The derby tie between the Mid and East Antrim neighbours produced little in the way of goalmouth action across the piece, however the Braidmen delivered when it mattered.
Chances were few and far between in a cagey first half. Ballymena striker David McDaid shot wide before ever lively Larne frontman Lee Bonis scooped an effort over the top.
On the half-hour mark Larne’s Micheal Glynn put a decent whipped delivery into the area but no-one was alive to meet it.
Three minutes later Ballymena produced the best move of the half. Veteran left back Ross Redman fired in a pinpoint cross from the left flank to the onrushing Sean Graham and his header forced a superb save from Larne keeper Rohan Ferguson.
Then McDaid pounced on a loose ball inside the area but could only steer his effort wide of the target, while down the other end Bonis flicked a header wide.
Defences continued to be on top at the start of the second half. Larne striker Andrew Ryan skied a shot before Ballymena’s Graham fired an effort over the top from distance and Bonis just failed to connect with a Leroy Millar delivery following a slick Larne move.
On 67 minutes Larne substitute Joe Thomson shot straight at Ballymena keeper Sean O’Neill and a minute later Ballymena took the lead. Redman delivered a corner towards the back post and Farquhar powerfully headed the ball past Ferguson.
Larne swept forward in search of an equaliser. Tomas Cosgrove crossed for Ryan and he steered a header inches over the bar from eight yards.
In the 83rd minute Ballymena doubled their lead. Larne conceded a free-kick on the edge of the area and Wilson stepped up to expertly clip the ball into the top corner. It was a wonderful hit.
Ballymena, who were defeated in last year’s final after Crusaders produced a stirring comeback, will now be hoping to go one better this season.
And they could well face the Crues again. Stephen Baxter’s side face Dungannon Swifts tomorrow in the second of this season’s semi-finals in the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup.
Larne: Rohan Ferguson, Shaun Want, Graham Kelly, Fuad Sule, Mark Randall, Lee Bonis, Cian Bolger, Leroy Millar, Micheal Glynn, Tomas Cosgrove (captain), Andrew Ryan
Substitutes: (used) Thomas Maguire, Joseph Thomson, Paul O’Neill; (unused) Jamie Pardington (GK), Albert Watson, Daniel Kearns, Shea Gordon.
Ballymena United: Sean O’Neill, Ross Redman, Douglas Wilson, Scot Whiteside, David McDaid, Joshua Kelly (captain), Steven McCullough, Jordan Gibson, Robert McVarnock, Sean Graham, Craig Farquhar.
Substitutes: Marcus Thompson (GK), Kym Nelson, Ryan Waide, Kenneth Kane, Andrew McGrory, George Tipton, Michael Place.