NI League Cup final: Coleraine come from behind to beat Crusaders
James McLaughlin's header gave Coleraine a 2-1 win over Crusaders in the League Cup final at Windsor Park.
The striker capitalised on the Crues failing to clear a corner to nod home from close range in front of a vocal Bannsiders support in the East Stand.
Crusaders made a strong start to the game and took a 10th-minute lead through Jamie McGonigle before Stephen Lowry equalised with a penalty.
The win was Coleraine's second League Cup triumph in their history.
McGonigle missed a glorious chance to equalise in injury time when he blazed over the crossbar from close range with what was the Crues' final throw of the dice to force extra time.
It is the second senior trophy won by Coleraine under boss Oran Kearney, whose coaching staff surrounded him on the final whistle before he shook hands with Crues counterpart Stephen Baxter.
With his side sitting third in the Irish Premiership table and also in the Irish Cup quarter finals, it is proving to be a successful second spell at the Bannsiders for Kearney, who returned last summer after a season as manager of St Mirren.
The Coleraine players headed straight to celebrate in front of their jubilant fans behind the goal where McLaughlin's winner went in as the distraught Crues panel looked on from the other half.
Lowry penalty changes dynamic of final
Crusaders imposed themselves on the match from the start and fully deserved the lead which McGonigle's goal gave them in the 10th minute.
The Bannsiders lost Aaron Traynor to injury midway through the first half and looked like they were going to need half time to regroup before referee Ian McNabb awarded a penalty in the 37th minute.
The ever-willing Jamie Glackin broke into the box and went down after contact from central defenders Rodney Brown and Billy Joe Burns, but it was a decision that was hotly disputed by the Crusaders players.
Ben Doherty has been clinical from the spot for Coleraine this season but with the winger out injured, Lowry stepped up and showed no nerves as he stroked home a class penalty into the bottom corner.
Crusaders were clearly rocked by the setback and found themselves behind in the 53rd minute when striker McLaughlin headed home from close range after keeper Sean O'Neill could only punch a Josh Carson corner upwards into the air.
Glackin helps drive win over former team-mates
It never quite worked out for Glackin during his time at Crusaders, after earning a move to the former Irish Premiership champions thanks to impressive performances for Dungannon Swifts.
Brought to the Showgrounds by former Swifts boss Rodney McAree, when he replaced Kearney after his departure for Scotland, the Omagh native's strong running from wide areas and centrally has been a key feature of Coleraine's excellent campaign so far.
Those traits became more and more evident as this cup final progressed, as Glackin's dribbling with the ball got his side high up the pitch despite a number of physical challenges from Crusaders.
As well as being involved in the penalty decision for Coleraine's equaliser, he also contributed to McLaughlin's winner with a well-timed surge down the inside right channel.
The 24-year-old delivered a low cross which was well cut out by the sliding Burns and, from the resulting corner, McLaughlin headed home despite the best efforts of Cameron Dummigan on the line to clear.
Crues fail to build on strong start
While the penalty decision had a huge galvanising effect on Coleraine, it seemed to distract Crusaders as they lost the strong grip they had on the game.
Boss Baxter will no doubt have been asking for 'more of the same' if they had held their lead until half-time, but his side were never able to regain the momentum after the break.
With Coleraine's second goal coming so soon after the interval, it always felt as if the match was slipping away from the Crues. Often the matchwinner for Baxter, Paul Heatley was substituted after the hour but replacement Reece McGinley failed to make an impact on the game.
It was all so different from the opening 40 minutes, when McGonigle's movement was causing his old side lots of problems as Coleraine keeper Chris Johns made a nervous start to the game.
The former Bannsiders striker's opening goal on 10 minutes was clinical. Philip Lowry headed on a poor Johns clearance and McGonigle showed great composure to deliver a clinical finish into the bottom corner.
While the night belonged to Coleraine, both sides must regain their focus the challenges that lie ahead in the exciting Irish Premiership title chase and the last eight of the Irish Cup.
What they said
Coleraine manager Oran Kearney: "We're very pleased. I thought Crusaders were excellent and I'm not sure how it was level at half time. Big James[McLaughlin] hasn't scored in months and it was written in the stars tonight.
"There are shades of the Irish Cup final, just look at the crowd we brought up from the north coast.
"I told our boys to go to special places and dig deep, and the mentality in our group is fantastic. We ground it out and we really earned it. It shows all the credentials that you want."
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter: "We felt really disappointed after our performance in the first half. Look, Coleraine got their goal and they held out bravely. They run out here fitting winners.
"Jamie will be disappointed not to score that one at the end. That's football and that's how it is. We gave it our best shot and if we had got that second goal it would have been a different game."