County Antrim Shield final: Crusaders 1-3 Linfield

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Linfield beat Crusaders in County Antrim Shield final

Linfield have won their first piece of silverware under David Healy after a 3-1 win over 10-man Crusaders in the County Antrim Shield final.

Goals from Cameron Stewart and Mark Stafford put the Blues into an early 2-0 lead and Crues midfielder Paul Heatley was red-carded on 33 minutes.

Jordan Owens' header pulled a goal back for Crusaders before the break.

But any hopes Crusaders had of equalising were ended by a Stephen Lowry penalty 11 minutes from the end.

Having lost two finals last season, the Blues were eager to take the initiative at the Ballymena Showgrounds and they punished some nervy defending by their opponents.

An early free-kick from Stephen Lowry led Crusaders into conceding two quick corners and the second of those from Niall Quinn was ballooned towards the front of the six yard box where Stewart rose highest to score with a powerful header.

Linfield celebrated their first trophy since winning the Shield in 2014
Linfield celebrated their first trophy since winning the Shield in 2014

Quinn was creating havoc down the left wing and he forced another corner in the 11th minute that led to the Blues' second goal.

Kirk Millar's right-footed delivery caused more confusion in the penalty area and Stafford won the battle at the back post to force the ball over the line from two yards out.

Crusaders' prospects were made all the more difficult in the 30th minute when Heatley was shown a straight red card.

The midfielder was involved in a tussle with Mark Stafford and appeared to lash out at the defender with a swinging arm.

There was minimal contact but referee Mervyn Smith was well-placed and had no hesitation in showing Heatley a red.

Despite the numerical disadvantage, Owens pulled a goal back for the league champions in the 33rd minute of a non-stop first-half.

David Cushley's high in-swinging cross from the left allowed Owens to time his run and header to perfection as it looped over goalkeeper Gareth Deane.

During a bad-tempered second half, the Blues made sure of the win in the 79th minute when Lowry converted from the penalty spot.

Crues goalkeeper Sean O'Neill struggled to cope with a surging run from Andrew Waterworth and Howard Beverland fouled the striker as he attempted to clear.

Lowry made no mistake as he despatched his spot-kick low to the left corner.

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Linfield manager David Healy

What they said

Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew: "We started off very well but when they went down to 10 men we sat off them a little bit and let them into it.

"To be fair, they put up a hell of a fight but obviously the penalty killed the game off."

"During my time here I haven't been as starved for success and hopefully this is a stepping stone to us becoming a force again."

Linfield manager David Healy: "It means a lot to the players. We lost two finals last season, but we were the better team by far tonight.

"People will say decisions maybe changed the outcome, but certainly not - we were deserved winners.

"We work hard on set plays and if you get the delivery right and get the right players on the end of it you will score goals."

Crusaders skipper Colin Coates: "We talked before the game that set-pieces are a big part of their game.

"We were sleeping and normally we are defensively quite sound there.

"We started slow and actually I thought once we went down to 10 men we played a bit better but we ran out of gas a bit at the end.

"To be honest I didn't see anything in the red card. I don't want to say too much but I think in the whole game Mervyn Smith got nearly every big decision wrong."

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