League Cup: Linfield edge Ballymena to win decider

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League Cup final highlights

Linfield survived sustained Ballymena United pressure to win the League Cup for a record 10th time thanks to an early Andy Waterworth goal.

The vocal Blues supporters were rewarded on 15 minutes when Waterworth slotted home after a superb break out of defence from Josh Robinson.

Ballymena came close to opening the scoring with James Knowles' deflected effort hitting the outside of the post.

The Sky Blues created a host of chances after the break but the Blues held on.

Relive the drama from the Windsor Park decider

United striker Cathair Friel missed the easiest when he blasted over from close range.

Linfield's victory was their first League Cup success since 2008 and means boss David Healy has now won every medal possible since taking over in October 2015.

It was a second League Cup final defeat in a row for the Sky Blues, whose fans in the North Stand failed to match the noise levels coming from the Kop stand throughout.

Waterworth the main man for Linfield again

Waterworth has so often been the man for the big occasion for Linfield and that was the case once again in this cup final, with the former Glentoran striker delivering the only goal of the game.

It was a fantastic run out of defence from Joshua Robinson to set the goal up, with the centre half showing great confidence on the ball before his pass was deflected into the path of Niall Quinn.

He played it through to Waterworth, who was never going to waste the amount of time Ballymena's back three afforded him and he picked his spot before calmly slotting into the bottom corner past Ross Glendinning.

Andrew Waterworth celebrates scoring the only goal in Saturday's final at Windsor Park
Andy Waterworth celebrates scoring the only goal in Saturday's final at Windsor Park

It was a ninth goal of this season's League Cup and a 24th in total in the campaign for a striker who also scored the winner against holders Dungannon Swifts in the semi-final.

Waterworth had a half-chance a moment later which the keeper saved and for the rest of the first-half his constant running kept the Sky Blues defence occupied, while he dropped deeper in the second period to play behind substitute Michael O'Connor as his side were put under sustained pressure.

Ballymena fail to make second-half pressure pay

There was very little between the sides in a first half which only fully came to life when a reckless challenge from Ballymena skipper Jim Ervin upended Blues captain Jamie Mulgrew a few minutes before the break.

Tempers frayed between both sides and boos rang out from the Linfield fans who felt their former stalwart Ervin should have seen red instead of the yellow card he received for the challenge.

It was a different story in the second half, which David Jeffrey's side started on the front foot and continued to dominate throughout.

They created numerous chances, with the best falling to Cathair Friel in the 53rd minute. A Steven McCullough corner struck a post and fell to the striker, but he blazed over the crossbar from just two yards out.

Agony for Ballymena striker Cathair Friel after a good chance to equalise against Linfield
Agony for Ballymena striker Cathair Friel after a good chance to equalise against Linfield

Friel also had a header tipped over the bar by Gareth Deane, Jude Winchester had a shot pushed round the post, Leroy Millar had a header saved and Andrew McGrory was just wide with a half volley.

Kyle McClean had the only effort of note for David Healy's side in the second half, but his instinctive effort from a Jordan Stewart cross went just wide of the post.

Linfield do enough as 4-4-2 overcomes 3-5-2

While the chances they created meant Ballymena deserved to at least take the game into extra time, the fluency that has been the hallmark of their impressive season so far was missing in the first 45 minutes.

Their front pair of Friel and Lecky have been a main reason why their 3-5-2 formation has served them so well, but neither striker was able to get into the game in the first half, with wing-backs McCullough and McGrory also failing to make an impact.

Sealed with a kiss - Andy Waterworth gets up close and personal with the League Cup
Sealed with a kiss - Andy Waterworth gets up close and personal with the League Cup

Blues boss Healy had successfully matched Ballymena's formation up in their Co Antrim Shield semi-final win in January, but today his side looked like they were lining up in a more traditional 4-4-2 shape, with Matthew Clarke coming in at left-back and Niall Quinn playing in a more advanced role on the left wing.

With Jordan Stewart in behind the hard-working Waterworth up front, Linfield were not full of fluency themselves but their defence somehow managed to keep the cleansheet that won them the trophy.

The Irish Premiership's top two sides are back at Windsor Park again next Saturday with vital league points up for grabs in the title race.

Man-of-the-match - Andy Waterworth

With Ballymena failing to take any of the many chances they created in the second half, Andy Waterworth's coolness in front of goal on the big occasion was once again decisive for Linfield.

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