County Antrim Shield final: Ballymena United 2-4 Crusaders

By Lyle JacksonBBC Sport
Classy Crusaders beat Ballymena 4-2 to win club's seventh Co Antrim Shield

Crusaders romped to a comfortable 4-2 victory over Ballymena United in Tuesday's County Antrim Shield final.

Ballymena had home advantage but were three down inside 23 minutes as Howard Beverland, Jordan Owens and Declan Caddell scored for the Belfast side.

Johnny McMurray pulled one back after the break and Kevin Braniff missed a great chance to make it 3-2.

Paul Heatley made it 4-1 to the Irish Premiership leaders with Cathair Friel netting a late second for United.

Relive the key moments from the Shield final

It was a first trophy for Crusaders since winning the league title in April 2016 and the seventh time they have won the Shield.

Crusaders celebrate after Howard Beverland gave them the lead in the County Antrim Shield final
Howard Beverland scored the first of three first-half Crusaders goals

Last season Stephen Baxter's men were league runners-up to Linfield and lost the Shield decider to the same team.

But there was never any real prospect of Crusaders being the bridesmaids on this occasion.

They stormed out of the blocks and it looked game over midway through the opening half.

Defender Beverland poked in from just a couple of yards out after the ball bobbled in the goalmouth from a corner for the eighth-minute opener.

Two minutes later striker Owens swept in a left-foot shot for 2-0 as the United defence was exposed again.

Matthew Snoddy of Crusaders in action against Ballymena's Tony Kane
This was Crusaders' first Shield triumph since 2010

Then, from a long ball forward, Heatley let it go for team-mate Caddell to net with a first-time effort in the 23rd minute.

The Crues could have had more - Owens having a header flagged for offside and keeper Ross Glendinning making a splendid diving save to deny Matthew Snoddy.

McMurray got one back in the 54th minute by shooting in after a neat exchange with Kyle Owens.

United had a great chance it pull it back to 3-2 but Braniff's shot was straight at keeper Brian Jensen who pulled off the block.

That proved a key moment as Heatley netted from Snoddy's lay-off on 69 minutes for 4-1.

A mix-up between keeper Jensen and defender Sean Ward gifted a late goal for Friel but it didn't matter as the Crues clinched the Shield for the first time since 2010.

Crusaders celebrated the first silverware of the season by beating Ballymena 4-2
Crusaders are still competing for four other trophies this season

What they said

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter: "I thought we were magnificent.

"After the first half, if it had been seven goals you would have said, 'fair enough'. That's how good we were. We blew them out of the water.

"To be fair, Ballymena rallied in the 10 minutes before half-time and came back at us after the break but we were really good tonight."

Ballymena manager David Jeffrey: "We gave ourselves a mountain to climb, conceding three goals that we could have done better with.

"We came out like a house on fire in the second half and deservedly got right back into the game which we expected to do.

"Then big Jensen makes a great save from Kevin Braniff and then go down at the other end and make it 4-1 and that kills the game.

"Congratulations to Crusaders. Well done to them but I'm very proud of my own players in how they responded."