Windsor Park is the venue for the first domestic cup final of the season as Linfield meet Ballymena United FC in the NIFL League Cup Final (5.30pm ko, all-ticket, played to a finish). The match is scheduled to be screened live on Sky Sports. Since the inception of the competition back in 1987, Linfield have lifted the League Cup trophy a record nine times, the last of which came over a decade ago (2008 v Crusaders 3-2). Ballymena have taken the cup back to the Showgrounds on just the one occasion (2017 v Carrick Rangers 2-0). This season the teams have met twice in league games, sharing the points with wins in their home fixtures by the same 2-1 scoreline. Linfield have also won a CAS tie at the Showgrounds in a third closely contested game which finished with yet another 2-1 scoreline.
In the build cup to Saturday's Final both Linfield and Ballymena recorded league wins to forge further ahead of the chasing pack in the Premiership title race. At Windsor Park Linfield fought back in dramatic fashion from a two goal deficit to grab a late, late winner (3-2) over Coleraine. The visitors had edged ahead with two controversial goals to leave a misfiring Linfield side with a mountain to climb. The Blues however rallied with goals from Josh Robinson and Niall Quinn to put the Bannsiders onto the back foot. As Windsor rocked substitute Michael O'Connor struck the woodwork twice before St Johnstone loanee Kyle McClean fired home the winning goal deep into added time. It was a thrilling finale to an entertaining game which had just about everything in it.
A busy week for Ballymena began at the Brandywell with a league win over Institute (2-1). On Monday night the Sky Blues defeated Championship side Portadown (4-1) in a re-arranged Tennent's Irish Cup tie at the Showgrounds, to set up a quarter-final clash with Crusaders at Seaview. After two quick fire games Ballymena manager David Jeffrey will be assessing his squad and closely monitoring his players over the rest of the week. DJ has strengthened his squad with the recent signing of defender Albert Watson who played over 300 games for the club before a transfer to Linfield. After two consecutive league and cup double winning seasons, he opted to pursue a full-time career with FC Edmonton in the NASL. There was to be one more port of call with a season at Icelandic club KR Reykjavik before his career turned full circle with a welcome return to his hometown club.
This has already been a memorable season for Linfield and Ballymena, who both remain in contention to lift three trophies. The players and the managers will of course not be thinking along those lines, wisely taking it by the proverbial 'one game at a time'. For both sets of supporters though, it is always going to be a case of holding on to your dream.
The stage has been set for this 'winner takes all' game between two very evenly matched sides. The impressive Windsor Park pitch will certainly provide the perfect platform for the players to perform and play the fast, neat football that is favoured by both managers. This is complemented by the stadium which lends itself towards generating a great atmosphere in the stands. It looks like being a tightly contested game in which Linfield will need to be at their very best if they are to make it to up onto the winners podium! COYB!