LEAGUE CUP FINAL: James McLaughlin the hero as Coleraine defeat Crusaders

James McLaughlin hands Coleraine a 2-1 lead over Crusaders in the BetMcLean Cup final at Windsor ParkJames McLaughlin hands Coleraine a 2-1 lead over Crusaders in the BetMcLean Cup final at Windsor Park
James McLaughlin hands Coleraine a 2-1 lead over Crusaders in the BetMcLean Cup final at Windsor Park
Coleraine recovered from an early deficit to secure the BetMcLean League Cup final prize on a 2-1 win thanks to Stephen Lowry and James McLaughlin.

Jamie McGonigle moved past the 20-goal mark for the season by breaking the deadlock on the big stage after just 10 minutes.

The former Coleraine favourite proved alert to capitalise on defensive confusion created by Chris Johns' unsuccessful clearance, with Crusaders keeping alive the threat and McGonigle's composed finish on the volley handing Crusaders control.

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The first main talking point of the final arrived seconds after two key challenges by Crues centre-back Billy Joe Burns to cut out a Coleraine attack and spark a counter-attack.

McGonigle continued to pose a threat when his dangerous curling free-kick delivery from the right proved just beyond a stretching Jordan Forsythe inside the packed penalty area.

Coleraine's problems continued on 24 minutes with the enforced substitution of marauding left-back Aaron Traynor, who had earlier required treatment on what appeared a shoulder injury after sliding into the advertising hoardings

Crusaders' attempts to build on the early boost included a clever looped angled ball over the top by Declan Caddell which Paul Heatley collected inside the area. However, Lyndon Kane stepped across to cut out the danger.

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James McLaughlin's looping header off a Jamie Glackin free-kick delivery failed to trouble Sean O'Neill as Crusaders offered the greater cutting edge.

Pressure extended on Coleraine when the alert Jordan Owens nipped in to win possession off Burns' upfield clearance but Stephen O'Donnell recovered from the initial setback to close down the opening.

Coleraine were handed a spot-kick lifeline on 37 minutes when a speculative ball into the danger area from deep was attacked by Glackin. Both Burns and Rodney Brown moved across to challenge and referee Ian McNabb deemed the latter's attempt as a foul.

Stephen Lowry showed composure from the penalty spot to slot home and level the final, sparking wild celebrations within the vocal Coleraine support.

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Crusaders regrouped to produce a strong finish to the first half, with Cameron Dummigan and Forsythe linking up along the right but the sides entering the interval level.

However, the Bannsiders' backing increased the volume once again on 52 minutes as Coleraine grabbed the upper hand.

A Josh Carson corner-kick from the right created problems inside the penalty area, with James McLaughlin gaining the crucial final touch as O'Neill's appeals for a foul were waved away.

Coleraine were forced into another tactical reshuffle with the loss of Adam Mullan from defence on 54 minutes as January signing Curtis Allen came on for his second debut in the blue and white.

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Sights of goal proved limited after McLaughlin made his mark, with Coleraine dropping deep to protect the slender but crucial advantage then offer a threat on the break.

Only a smart save on 73 minutes by O'Neill prevented Coleraine from increasing the edge off that path to goal as Glackin's intelligent pass picked out Ian Parkhill, who fired a crisp half-volley goalwards to bring out the best in the Crusaders goalkeeper.

McLaughlin then attacked a whipped Allen cross on the run on 79 minutes but his powerful header cleared the crossbar.

It was his final contribution but far from the most telling - as the League Cup hero walked off moments later to the sound of his name ringing from the stands.

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McGonigle offered the first key contribution to the night and had two injury-time opportunities for the final say - but he failed to add to his tally as one header dropped into the arms of Johns before he blasted over the target unmarked at the back post.

Within seconds the final whistle confirmed Coleraine as winners of the season's first major senior honour.

COLERAINE: Johns, Kane, Mullan (Allen, 54), Canning, Lowry, McLaughlin (Fitzpatrick, 82), Carson, O'Donnell, Parkhill, Glackin, Traynor (Jarvis, 24).

Subs (not used): Gallagher, Douglas, Bradley, McConaghie.

CRUSADERS: O'Neill, Burns, Lowry, McGonigle, Caddell (Hale, 76), Forsythe (Cushley, 71), O'Rourke, Owens, Brown, Heatley (McGinley, 62), Dummigan.

Subs (not used): Doherty, Beverland, Thompson, McElroy.

Referee: Ian McNabb