Manchester United 1
Co. Londonderry 1
(Londonderry win 4-3 on penalties)
Report by Paul Alexander
County Londonderry defeated Manchester United 4-3 on penalties after Alfie Friars’ late equaliser in second-half stoppage time sent the game to spot kicks.
The result means the county side will take on Tigres UANL, who also won their semi-final on penalties, in Friday’s Premier decider at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
United, however, will face County Antrim at Portrush’s Parker Avenue in third and fourth play-off.
Londonderry had the first meaningful chance of the encounter in the second minute. Alfie Gaston supplied Aidan Tejada on the left, but his tame shot was saved.
The Red Devil’s first real opportunity came after seven minutes when Shea Lacey came in off the right wing before dragging his strike wide of the near post.
Lacey would put his side ahead from the penalty spot on 17 minutes after he had been brought down by Jacob Dallas. He stepped up and sent Harry Pearson to the left before slotting the ball into the bottom-right corner.
The United wide man threatened again minutes later although his pressurised shot was gathered by Pearson in the County goal.
Londonderry had an appeal for a penalty turned down with almost 26 minutes played. Left midfielder Bobby Baird pounced on a loose ball before he was brought down in the area but the referee was unmoved.
Baird’s teammate Gaston tried to put their side on level terms eight minutes before half-time. Initially, United keeper Cameron Byrne-Hughes seemed to struggle with Gaston’s snapshot before recovering to gather the ball.
The second half saw County Londonderry continue to threaten when going forward, whilst the Mancunians couldn’t finish the game off. Londonderry substitute Sam McClintock tried to find an equaliser on 55 minutes but his low free-kick was deflected wide for a corner.
Captain Senan Devine and substitute Ceadach O’Neill fired over within two minutes of each other as they tried to level the scoreline.
With three minutes of normal time remaining Lacey – United’s star on the evening – was shown the red card for a disappointing challenge on Gaston in front of the two dugouts.
Londonderry found their equaliser after a corner in the first minute of stoppage time. McClintock delivered the ball from the right and Friars rose highest at the far post to head in.
Prior to the penalty shootout Manchester United’s Nathaniel Mapengu was dismissed by the referee in the intervening period for what appeared to be dissent.
The two teams scored their opening penalties through Armer and Friars respectively. United’s Bailey was unsuccessful with the third penalty of the shootout. He opted for the bottom-right corner, as did Pearson.
Both sides scored their next two spot-kicks – McDowell and O’Neill for County Londonderry and Abdoulaye and Kukonki for Manchester United.
McClintock then netted the next penalty before skipper Fitzgerald missed the target sending Londonderry through to the final.
Manchester United: Byrne-Hughes (Murdock, 36), Kukonki, Armer, Mapengu, Freedman, Mantato, Bailey, Fitzgerald [C], Lacey, Thwaites (Balogun, 56), Abdoulaye
Subs not used: Mills, Devaney, Abraha, McCormack, Barbosa
Co. Londonderry: Pearson, Hutton (McDowell, 65), Dallas (Graham, 65), Friars, Leacock, Baird (O’Neill, 50), Tejada, Burns, Devine [C], Gaston (Gallagher, 70), Ramsey (McClintock, 50)
Subs not used: Clifford, Green