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Uploaded Tuesday, 26th Apr, 2022 at 23:08

Date: Tuesday, 26th April, 2022; Competition: Samuel Gelston's Whiskey Irish Cup - Semi-Final; Attendance: N/A;
Newry City [0] [0]
Ballymena United [0] [1]
Venue: Mourneview Park; Kick-Off: 19:45;
Referee: Steven Gregg; Assistant 1: Andrew Nethery; Assistant 2: Stephen Bell; 4th Official: Evan Boyce;
[0-1] McCULLOUGH, Steven (53 mins)

BALLYMENA United will face Crusaders in the final of the 2022 Samuel Gelston's Whiskey Irish Cup after beating Newry City 1-0 in a grueling semi-final at Mourneview Park on Tuesday evening.
After a 3-0 victory over Carrick Rangers on Saturday afternoon, David Jeffrey named an unchanged XI in Lurgan, with two changes on the bench seeing Sean O'Neill and Caolan Loughran back if called upon.
Following Glentoran's appeals after an illegible player saw Newry take their place in the semi-finals, it had been fifty-two days since United booked their last four appearance with victory over Larne, but the first half wasn't exactly one that was worth the wait. Quality moments were few and far between from either side with the ball spending most of its time in the air, but when the first chance came, it fell Ballymena's way. A free kick floated in from wide right by Malachy Smith was met by Leroy Millar, but his long range header flew wide.
After Daniel Hughes' rather speculative effort had found the gloves of Jordan Williamson and Steven McCullough had sent a volley into the Lurgan night, a decent chance fell Millar's way again. A United free kick ricocheted about in the box before eventually falling to the captain, but on the turn he couldn't get enough on it to trouble Steven Maguire in the Newry goal.
Towards the end of the half the quality hadn't improved and it wasn't always an easy watch, but the Braidmen came as close as they had gone when Millar found McCullough in space after a quick break, but from outside the box his powerful effort forced Maguire into a good stop, as a quiet and tense half ended goalless.
The second half couldn't have really been much worse in truth, and from the off the Sky Blues' began to show a bit more intent and endeavor, which was rewarded with the games only goal on fifty-three minutes. Dale Montgomery was booked for a late challenge on Ryan Waide twenty-five yards or so from goal, allowing McCullough a pop, and the full back, who had been playing much further up the pitch, became the night's hero when his unstoppable free kick flew past a helpless Maguire.
After Newry's impressive travelling support had brought the noise in the first half, it was the turn of the United fans in the away end to turn it up, and ten minutes after the opener it was almost two. Kym Nelson's long clearance was met by Waide who raced goalwards, and from a tight angle his shot called Maguire into action as he bundled the ball round the post.
Moving into the final twenty minutes Ballymena were in the driving seat with a sustained period of pressure beginning to tell, but momentum swiftly swung when a melee saw United reduced to ten men. Brendan Barr took one for the team when he stopped a Newry counter attack with a clip of the heels, but it prompted a bit of an over the top reaction from the Newry players, before a mass brawl broke out. In amongst the madness, which lasted for some time, Nelson saw red for his part in the fighting, while a duo of yellow cards went Newry's way.
Fairly needlessly down a man, the last fifteen minutes were a nervy watch as United moved into a defensive shape, but Newry weren't really able to make their possession count, aided for United by Williamson's braveness in coming for the crosses.
With Conor Keeley asking for more from the United supporters, they replied in kind as the minutes ticked on, but in six minutes of added time there were one or two heart in mouth moments, not least when a goal-bound shot from John McGovern was crucially blocked by Keeley, as United just about held on.
A long way from a cup classic, but after coming through a dogged tie against a Newry side who should be proud of their efforts, McCullough was the hero to send Ballymena into the showpiece final on the 7th May at The National Stadium against Crusaders.
Ballymena United travel to Stangmore Park on Saturday to face Dungannon Swifts in the final game on the league season, kicking off at 5:30pm.
Match Report by Phillip McPeake
Ballymena United Team:
Jordan Williamson, Ryan Waide ( Ross Redman 74), Steven McCullough, Jack Henderson ( 90), Brendan Barr ( 71 Joshua Kelly 74), David Parkhouse ( Paul McElroy 85), Conor Keeley, Leroy Millar, Sean Graham, Malachy Smith, Kym Nelson ( 71).

Subs not used: Sean O'Neill, Kenneth Kane, Caolan Loughran, Michael Place.