Linfield reached the Irish Cup Final after a hard fought victory against Sion Swifts in the pouring rain at Mill Meadow, home of Moyola Park on Saturday night.
The score sheet was blank after 90 minutes and 20 minutes of extra time but Linfield held their nerve to win the penalty shoot 4-3 to progress to the Windsor Park Irish Cup Final against Glentoran on Saturday September 22.
The players and staff deserve enormous credit for coming through a gruelling schedule of 5 games in 12 days - three energy sapping UEFA Champions League games against higher ranked teams on August 7, 10 and 13 followed by a vital league win at New Midgley Park on August 15 and now a huge Irish Cup semi final win against the cup holders, who fought like tigers to hold on to their trophy.
It's worth noting that Sion Swifts enjoy a good record against Linfield in the Irish Cup. While Linfield have won this prestigious competition in 2013, 2014 and 2016, the Blues also suffered early round defeats away to Sion Swifts in both 2015 and 2017.
Huge credit has to go to Neil Morrow who in the absence of manager Phil Lewis over the past fortnight, stood in as acting head coach and maintained momentum with three highly respectable results in the UEFA Champions League, a vital league win and a hard fought Irish Cup semi final win.
And of course the praise for last night's courageous win also goes to all the players who played with big hearts throughout to dig out the dramatic penalty shoot out win. It was a cruel way for any side to lose an Irish Cup semi final and our valiant opponents Sion Swifts deserve all our respect for their wholehearted efforts throughout.
On a night when most attention was on boxing matters at Windsor Park, this Irish Cup semi final was a titanic tussle between two heavyweights which went right to the wire with the penalty shoot out conversion by Kirsty McGuinness delivering the final knock out blow.
Linfield's team line up was as follows
1 - Lauren Perry
14 - Kelsie Burrows
3 - Louise McFrederick
6 - Jennifer McDade
5 - Ashley Hutton
8 - Sarah Venney
7 - Megan Bell
97 - Chloe McCarron
18 - Rebecca McKenna
20 - Lauren Robson
11 - Kirsty McGuinness
22 - Louise McDaniel - replaced Lauren Robson
9 - Rebecca Bassett
16 - Clare Timoney
25 - Naomi Donnan
Sion Swifts came so close to taking a 12th minute lead. A corner was sliced onto the crossbar by a Linfield defender and the follow up shot from a Sion player from outside the box was tipped onto the bar by Linfield keeper Lauren Perry and even then the danger wasn't clear as the next follow up effort had to be scrambled away by a combination of Lauren Perry and Ashley Hutton. It was a huge let off for Linfield.
Linfield gradually got a foothold in the game and came close to taking a 28th minute lead when a first time volley from Kirsty McGuinness whistled agonisingly centimetres wide of the upright.
A daisy cutter free kick from Megan Bell on 39 minutes was pushed behind for a corner and from the resultant corner Ashley Hutton did have the ball in the net but her effort was flagged offside.
Half time - Sion Swifts 0 Linfield 0
Linfield came close again on 53 minutes when a terrific Kirsty McGuinness shot from 25 yards came crashing back off the bar but the Blues breathed a huge sigh of relief when a clever chip from sub Aimee Mackin landed on the roof of the net in the 59th minute.
On 76 minutes a Lauren Robson strike from outside the box was just over the bar and a minute later the ever consistent Robson was replaced by Louise McDaniel.
A breakaway run from Megan Bell on 82 minutes ended with the international midfielder firing over the bar as Linfield went in search of the elusive opening goal.
Linfield almost delivered the killer blow in the final minute of injury time. A superb goal bound strike from Megan Bell from outside the box was brilliantly pushed away for a corner by the Sion Swifts keeper Molly Meehan.
Scoreline after 90 minutes - Sion Swifts 0 Linfield 0
The opening 10 minutes of extra time saw Linfield make repeated efforts to force the opener. Linfield forced a succession of 6 corners but each time couldn't break down a stubborn Sion Swifts rearguard.
There were clearances off the line, repeated scrambles in the box as Linfield upped the ante in search of the decisive breakthrough goal.
Chloe McCarron had a shot deflected behind and another just wide and several Ashley Hutton efforts were scrambled clear.
A tantalising Kirsty McGuinness free kick to the back post just evaded the two Linfield attackers who were just unable to apply the crucial finishing touch.
Th second period of extra time was less eventful with no clear chances for either side and so it had to be decided by the lottery of a penalty shoot out.
In the shoot out Lauren Perry in the Linfield goal made 2 critical saves while Megan Bell, Jennifer McDade and Sarah Venney converted the first 3 spot kicks for Linfield. It fell to star striker Kirsty McGuinness to take the decisive penalty and while the Sion keeper got a hand to the strike, the ball ended up in the net to secure a 4-3 triumph.
It was a hard fought, hard earned and just about deserved triumph against hugely respected opponents.
In a titanic semi final encounter the margin between winning and losing could not have been closer and so a relieved Linfield will now progress to an Irish Cup final against Glentoran at Windsor Park on the evening of September 22.
Glentoran defeated Cliftonville 5-1 in the other semi final in Bangor and so the scene is now set for a first ever 'Big Two' Irish Women's Cup Final and the third Windsor Park showpiece occasion.
August 18 was Super Saturday with a terrific Linfield win at Seaview followed up by Irish Cup semi final success at Moyola Park.
September 22 is going to be another massive Saturday with a huge trip to Coleraine to be followed by a formidable challenge in the Windsor Park Irish Cup final.
Audaces Fortuna Juvat.
Linfield Player of the Match - ‘the Lioness’ Ashley Hutton.
Final score - Linfield 0 Sion Swifts 0 (Linfield won 4-3 on penalties)
Match images to follow.