BALLYMENA United ended their 23-year trophy drought by lifting the County Antrim Shield in a dramatic penalty shootout win over Linfield.
Glenn Ferguson’s side won 4-3 on penalties after the sides had remained deadlocked at 1-1 in a thrilling final at the Oval.
Midfielder Alan Davidson scored the decisive spot kick to land United’s first major trophy since the Irish Cup in 1989 and prompt scenes of wild jubilation among the club’s long-suffering supporters.
Roared on by a huge support, Ballymena showed no signs of nerves in the early stages as they matched the league champions.
The Blues enjoyed a lot of possession without posing much threat, with Michael Carvill dragging two efforts wide.
Alan Davidson teed up Gary Thompson for United’s first effort on 17 minutes but his 20 yard shot was straight at keeper Ross Glendinning, deputising for the Blues’ regular stopper Alan Blayney.
But the Ballymena fans were sent into delirium six minutes later as the Sky Blues grabbed the lead.
Tony Kane’s deep free kick was headed goalwards by David Cushley with the ball rebounding off the underside of the crossbar and bouncing just short of the goal-line. But with Linfield unable to clear the loose ball it sat up nicely for defender Munster to cleverly guide a header into the opposite corner.
Ballymena survived a scare four minutes before the interval when Michael gault cross was diverted off the base of the post by Michael Carvill.
Unsurprisingly, Linfield turned the screw in the second period as United came up against a sustained spell of pressure from the league champions, who spurned a glorious chance to equalise when Carvill raced clean through but shot wastefully over.
Then keeper Stuart Addis saved United when he kept out David Armstrong’s back post header with his legs.
But Linfield’s pressure eventually told with 16 minutes to go when Carvill sneaked in on Munster’s blind side and was pulled down by the defender, with Brian McCaul tucking away the spot kick.
The game continued to ebb and flow and Ballymena almost snatched victory with virtually the last kick in normal time when Alan Davidson’s 25-yard free kick was brilliantly turned over the bar by Glendinning.
David Cushley for Ballymena and Peter Thompson for Linfield went close in extra time but the game went to penalties.
Jamie Davidson missed Ballymena’s first kick but from there, David Cushley, Tony Kane, Allan Jenkins and Alan Davidson all converted their spot kicks, while Addis saved from David Armstrong and Daryl Fordyce, leaving Davidson to secure the win.
Ballymena United: Addis, Kane, Munster (sub Jenkins 82), Stewart, Black, SUrgenor, Thompson, A Davidson, Bingham (sub J Davidson 65), Costello, Cushley. Subs (not used): Nelson, Rodgers,
Linfield: Glendinning, Armstrong, Gault, Murphy, Carvill, Hanley (Thompson 45), Browne (Fordyce 60), Garrett (McCaul 72), Ervin, Mulgrew, Black.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).