ToalsBet.com Steel & Sons Cup, semi-final (AET)
Newington 5 Bangor 3
A PAIR of extra-time goals from substitute Daire Rooney finally settled a thrilling Steel & Sons Cup semi-final at Seaview on Tuesday evening as Newington booked their place in the Christmas Day decider at the expense of Bangor.
This was a game that swung this way and that with Newington seemingly in the driving seat when surging two goals clear after 21 minutes, but in a crazy 10-minute spell either side of the break, Bangor had flipped this semi-final on its head to take the lead.
Newington skipper Richard Gowdy got his side back on terms to force the additional period and it was Rooney, who only came on late in normal time, who would score the decisive goals to put Paul Hamilton's side into their second-straight final after the competition was not completed last season.
"It was a battle the whole way," said Hamilton.
"We always knew Bangor were a quality side, but we're just an intense team. We try to keep our intensity as high as we can the whole match and I think you saw in extra-time: we just had that wee bit more.
"There was a lot of quality out there from both teams and it was a great spectacle for anybody to come and watch. 5-3 in a semi-final - you can't ask for much more than that.
"It's great credit to the boys. Their fitness and all their hard work throughout the year has paid off so far."
Newington couldn't have got off to a better start as they had Bangor pinned back from the kick-off and Gary Warwick saw an opening minute effort blocked at the near post, while minutes later, Richard Gowdy rode to meet a corner from the right, but his header was tipped onto the crossbar by Matthew Anderson and was hacked clear.
The goal was coming and it duly arrived on six minutes as Jack Reilly picked up possession on the right and made a break towards goal, cutting onto his left and his curling shot could only be parried by Anderson with Aodhán Gillen there to turn it home.
This seemed to waken Bangor up a little as they pressed higher, but were not doing anything to trouble Marc Maybin in the Newington goal.
Instead, it was the North Belfast side that just seemed to have that bit more pace and purpose going forward and continued to threaten.
Aodhfionn Casey saw a 15th minute snapshot deflected off a Bangor player and just about outside the post as the Newington players appealed for a handball was was not given, but the second was not long in arriving as on 21 minutes, a long punt upfield by Maybin dropped to Warwick who took it down and struck from around 30 yards. There didn't seem to be a great lot of pace on the ball, but it took a bounce and beat Anderson.
It took Bangor 30 minutes to have their first real effort on goal and that came from Karl Devine who let fly from distance and Maybin was forced to parry with Reece Neale unable to steer his follow-up on target from a tight angle while on the stretch.
Casey headed over from a Jack Reilly free-kick at the other end and just as it seemed Newington were comfortable, Bangor were right back in it on 37 minutes as Michael Halliday nodded Neale's corner home from close range and then in something of a carbon copy eight minutes later, it was Ryan Arthur this time who got his head to the cross and found the net to leave it 2-2 at the end of a remarkable first 45 minutes.
The turnaround was complete straight after the break when the ball was nodded into the Newington box and despite appeals for offside, play continued with Arthur ghosting in behind the defence to thump home and put Bangor ahead.
Conal Burns looked a danger for Newington on the left wing, but his dancing feet were only allowed to get so far with the Bangor defence not allowing him to get a sight of goal.
Instead, the equaliser arrived on 66 minutes when from Gillen's corner, Kevin Bradley nodded the ball back into the danger area and Richard Gowdy was there to finish high into the net from just a yard out and make it 3-3.
Bangor were almost back in front immediately only for Maybin to deny Lewis Harrison from point-blank range, while at the other end, Conal Burns stung the palms of Anderson with a near post shot.
Both sides probed for a winner, but it wouldn't arrive with Arthur off-target with a header five minutes from time and then Bangor substitute Ben Arthurs inches from making contact from an inviting ball as the game went to extra-time.
The first period belonged to Newington, or to be precise, substitute Daire Rooney as he nodded in at the back point three minutes in from a Warwick cross and then four minutes later, he produced an excellent low finish after Conal Burns got up the line and cut the ball into his path to leave the North Belfast men 5-3 up at the change of ends.
Burns was denied his hat-trick in the second period as Jonathan Doey lunged to block his shot, but it was Bangor needing the goals and they pushed forward, probing for an opening to grab a lifeline. None was forthcoming and in the end their disappointment was compounded when Doey was shown red in the dying moments as Newington celebrated having come through in a thriller.
Linfield Swifts - who Newington beat in the 2017 final and lost to in the 2019 decider - face Lisburn Distillery in Wednesday evening's second semi-final and Hamilton is hoping his side can make it two wins from three final appearances whoever they are to face in the decider after showing the determination to get back there.
"We gave away two stupid goals from set-pieces, but to get back and get the win after going 3-2 down showed the heart and character," he added.
"We can't ask any more of the boys. They put it in every week in training and have been absolutely outstanding, so hopefully they get their rewards.
"They've got a reward by being there on Christmas Day, so we just need to get over the line now.
"We've felt the jubilation (in 2017) and the heartache (in 2019) so hopefully we get the jubilation back this year and have a good Christmas instead of crying into our Christmas dinner."
NEWINGTON: M Maybin, O Roper (R McVarnock 65), J Reilly, M Gorman, K Bradley, R Gowdy, C Burns, G Warwick, P Downey, A Gillen (D McKenna 95), A Casey (D Rooney 84)
Goals: A Gillen 6, G Warwick 21, R Gowdy 66, D Rooney 93, 97
BANGOR: M Anderson, I Fletcher (G Beattie 60), R Neale, J Doey, R Arthur, D Hume, L Harrison (J Upritchard 83), M Cooling, M Halliday (B Arthurs 75), K Devine, K Storey (E O'Neill 91)
Goals: M Halliday 37, R Arthur 45 ,47
Red cards: J Doey 109
REFEREE: Richard White