Opinion: Dramatic finale at Solitude topped all others

Ballymena United supporters celebrate David Cushley's winning goal in Saturday's Irish Cup tie at Solitude. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena United supporters celebrate David Cushley's winning goal in Saturday's Irish Cup tie at Solitude. Picture: Press Eye.

You would imagine you would start to tire of saying or writing the same thing over and over again.

But I have genuinely lost count of the number of times I have used the words ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’ when describing the events of Ballymena United matches this season to other people.

Sometimes it has been in the exasperated tone of trying to explain conceding six goals inside 20 minutes in the infamous 7-0 defeat at Cliftonville in November.

On other occasions, it has been to describe something more positive, if equally perplexing - United’s comeback in the epic 5-5 draw at Portadown being a prime example.

Thankfully Saturday’s latest entry fell into the latter category as the latest chapter in Ballymena’s extraordinary campaign unfolded at Solitude, a venue where incident-packed encounters seem to come guaranteed with the admission price.

I made the point on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game that it trumped any of the dramatic finales which had gone before it.

Given some of the gubbings which United have suffered at the north Belfast venue, their determined, disciplined display on Saturday looked as though it might go unrewarded.

Yet again, I was preparing myself for a post-match press conference dominated by discussion on key decisions with Ballymena, for the umpteenth time this season, seemingly coming out on the wrong side of the majority of them.

I had a clear view of the penalty award from which the Reds took the lead and wasn’t convinced by it. Johnny Taylor was already lying on the ground, the result of his attempts to block Joe Gormley’s shot when the striker tumbled over his outstretched body. Short of levitating into the air, I’m not sure where Taylor was expected to go to avoid that collision. Watching TV footage of the incident afterwards didn’t do anything to alter my opinion.

The other two penalty shouts came at the other end and while it was a long distance away, they were the type of incidents where I wouldn’t have been surprised had either been given.

Thank goodness, then, for Cushley’s late cameo. It’s foolhardy in the extreme for an opposing team to concede a free kick in that area of the pitch with Cushley around - after all, the winger’s prowess from set-pieces is hardly a secret in Irish League circles.

His first had the good fortune to take a nick off a defender attempting to block the shot and the spin was enough to take the ball beyond the reach of Peter Cherrie.

But if the first owed a lot to good fortune, the second was just a moment of jaw-dropping brilliance.

It sounds like an entry from the Big Boys’ Book of Football Clichés when you say ‘it was a goal from the moment it left his boot’.

But even watching from the Solitude press box, the entire length of the pitch away, there was never a second of doubt in my mind where the shot was destined for.

The scenes of joyous pandemonium in the away stand - later captured on video on social media - were marvellous to behold.

But if Cushley’s goals grabbed most of the headlines, Tim Allen’s contribution to United’s victory was no less important.

After a couple of questionable forays from his goal in the first period, the big goalkeeper had a debut to remember, with a string of fine saves.

It wasn’t quite in the same league as Damian Grant’s famous goalkeeping performance in the 1989 Irish Cup semi-final against Linfield - I’m not sure we’ll ever see a display like that again - but it wasn’t so much the quality of his saves but rather the importance of the timing of them which caught the eye.

Ballymena fans will have been too far away to have seen the decisive touch he got to push Jay Donnelly’s effort onto the inside of the post, just a matter of seconds before Cushley levelled the scores at the other end.

His overall performance exuded confidence and assurance in a position which has given Ballymena so many problems this term and if he can continue that form, it will have been another astute piece of business in a pleasing January transfer window for Glenn Ferguson.

* Follow Ballymena Times Sports Editor Stephen Alexander on Twitter (@Stephen_Bmena).