Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey saluted new signing Kevin Braniff after this Tennent’s Irish Cup sixth round clash at Tillysburn Park.
Signed from Glenavon only last week, the 33 year old striker made an immediate impact when he was given the nod to replace the injured Joe McKinney in the first half.
Against all the odds, battling H&W Welders forged into the lead when veteran striker Davy Rainey struck on 64 minutes.
But Braniff had the big away support cheering with delight when he headed home a Leroy Millar corner kick, which had been helped on by Allan Jenkins.
Tony Kane then fired the Sky Blues ahead with a stunning free kick in extra time, before Braniff was sent clear by Cathair Friel and his low drive just about crept under the diving body of goalkeeper Samuel Johnston.
Jeffrey gushed: Bryan McLoughlin and I have been wanting to work with Kevin for many years -- that’s no secret. It was vitally important to us that Kevin wanted buy in to our vision.
“He was probably introduced to the game earlier that intended due to an injury to Joseph McKinney. His touch, his awareness and his quality was evident. He glided about the pitch . . . I thought he was very good. His contribution was significant.”
Jeffrey admitted he was relieved to be in the quarter finals - his team will now face rivals Coleraine at the Warden Street Showground on March 4.
“I knew how difficult it was going to be,” he added. “There is a resilience and a steely determination within the group. They kept going and going and I think we deserved to win it, albeit in extra time.
“We didn’t want it to go to the lottery of a penalty shoot out.
“The most important thing is the fact that we are in the next round.”
Braniff stressed he was surprised to get the call so early on.
“I was thrilled to be involved,” he said.
“It was unfortunate for Joe, but I was happy enough to get the early call. Hopefully, that’s me up and running - and hopefully I’ve laid down a marker for a starting place.
“The Irish Cup is special. I would love the go all the way to the final with Ballymena.
“It’s the third year in a row I’ve been down here (at Tillysburn) . . . it’s always a tough place to come.
“It’s not a nice place to come to. We knew we would have to dig in.
“I was lucky enough to get the equaliser to take the game to extra time.
“To be honest, I thought we were the only team going to win it in extra time.
“People think we should be beating Championship teams with a bit to spare, but it’s the Irish Cup - anything can happen.
“The Welders gave it their all to take the game to extra time, fair play to them.”
Welders boss Gary Smyth, who had defender Gary Spence dismissed seconds before Kane’s super strike, admitted he was delighted with his team’s performance, but disappointed with the result.
“I’m gutted for the boys,” he said.
“I thought we deserved more for our efforts.
“That’s the best I’ve seen us play for a long time . . . we worked hard. It was like the Welders of last season.
“I thought we deserved to keep Ballymena honest by taking them to a penalty shoot out.
“I’ve no complaints with the sending off.
“It was Gary’s second booking . . . and it was a yellow card.
“When Kane put the free kick into the top corner, it killed it for us.
“Ballymena were a big strong side - they were difficult to play against, but we matched them for a long time, so we are disapointed to go out of the Cup.”