Conor Mitchell (GK), Casement, Stafford, Callacher, Clarke, Quinn, Mitchell, Robinson, Millar, J Stewart, Waterworth
Linfield were on the wrong end of a remarkable comeback in tonight’s County Antrim Shield final at Seaview.
Linfield’s bright start was rewarded after nine minutes when Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O’Neill flapped at Kirk Millar’s corner under the wind and Mark Stafford stooped to bundle the ball into the net from close range.
Playing with the wind at their backs, The Blues broke quickly and nearly added a second. Kirk Millar found space, cut inside from the right and poked an effort goal ward but it was deflected into the side netting.
David Cushley drew Crusaders level on 28 minutes when the ball dropped kindly for the Crues striker and he thumped the ball past Linfield’s debutant goalkeeper Conor Mitchell from 20 yards.
But it was short lived for the Hatchetmen as Kirk Millar restored Linfield’s lead a minute later. Andy Waterworth took on a left footed shot from the left side of the area and O’Neill could only parry the ball into the path of Kirk Millar who had the easy task of tapping home.
Linfield added a third a short time later, although it came with a hint of fortune. Kirk Millar’s cross was mopped up by Billy Joe Burns – or so it seemed! Burns’ header cannoned off the head of Colin Coates and flew into the net past a shellshocked goalkeeper.
Crusaders aimed to cut Linfield’s lead late in the first half but Blues’ goalkeeper Conor Mitchell – making his debut after his January loan switch from Burnley – denied the Crues the opportunity with a top save with his feet to block a volley from Declan Caddell.
Half Time: Crusaders 1 – 3 Linfield
Crusaders had the advantage of the wind at their backs in the second half and made a very strong start to the half. Linfield had to soak up pressure before Matthew Clarke produced an exceptional headed clearance off the face of goal from Phillip Lowry’s shot.
Sean Ward couldn’t have struck a 25 yard volley much sweeter but it was deflected just wide of the post for a corner and Colin Coates rose highest to nod home from Forsythe’s delivery to make it 3-2.
Crusaders went agonisingly close to an equaliser with what would have been a carbon copy of their second goal but this time his header struck the post.
Josh Robinson almost restored breathing space for Linfield when he met Niall Quinn’s corner but he saw his glancing header drift agonisingly past the far post.
Mark Stafford almost scored one of the most extraordinary goals seen in this country. Niall Quinn’s effort looked like it was heading for the Shore Road, but such was the wind, the ball dropped near the penalty spot and Mark Stafford connected superbly with an overhead kick but O’Neill reacted smartly to deny the defender.
Crusaders drew level once again on 88 minutes when Jordan Forsythe ran free to fire home from David Cushley’s corner.
The Crusaders turnaround was complete on 91 minutes when David Cushley nodded home from Jordan Forsythe’s free-kick. The Crues took full advantage of the strong second half wind.
Full Time: Crusaders 4 – 3 Linfield