Jonté Smith endears himself to Ballymena with late extra-time cup winner
Jonté Smith was the toast of the dressing room after his dramatic winner in the last minute of extra time sent Ballymena United through to the quarter-finals of the BetMcLean League Cup last night.
With penalties looming, the Bermuda striker headed home Dan Bramall’s cross for his second goal of the match to clinch for the visiting side a hard-fought 3-2 win over Crusaders at Seaview.
“I just remember us breaking on the counter-attack and I have seen Dan one versus one with the defender and I always back him to get past his man,” Smith told The Royal Gazette.
“I just thought to myself find the free space and attack the ball when it comes across. He did exactly what I thought he would and when the chance came, I knew I had to take it.”
Smith opened the scoring also with a header in the sixth minute to get the visitors off to a flying start in what proved a gruelling and tight third-round cup-tie.
Ross Redman whipped in a free kick that Smith rose highest for to neatly head home his third goal for his new club.
The 27-year-old threatened to extend the visiting side’s lead, but had two efforts saved.
The home side eventually hit back through a goal from Ben Kennedy after team-mate Aidan Wilson intercepted a wayward pass from Smith.
Ballymena came close to regaining the lead when Caolan Loughran’s header struck the crossbar to leave the teams level at the half.
Crusaders dominated after the restart. They created a string of chances and had a Jordan Owens goal disallowed after the striker was blown up for a foul on Jordan Williamson, the Ballymena goalkeeper.
Bramall went close to settling the affair in the final minute of regulation time but saw his long range effort soar just over the bar to send the match to extra time.
The game opened up in the added period with both teams trading blows.
Ballymena eventually regained the lead when Bramall’s thumping 30-yard effort flew into the top corner right at the end of the first extra 15 minutes.
Owens grabbed an equaliser for the home side eight minutes into the second half of extra time to keep the game evenly poised before Smith pounced late to finally seal the deal.
“The game was physically and mentally tough as well as exhausting,” Smith added. “Playing 120 minutes when you put your all into the first 90 minutes is always difficult.
“It is a huge relief when you work so hard for so long in a game then you get the rewards for it. The whole team were brilliant last night.”
Smith is a newcomer at the Northern Ireland club having joined last month from Woking, of the Vanarama National League in England.
“I have settled in pretty quickly, you just try to adapt to your surroundings as quickly as you can,” he added.
“The people are very friendly and welcoming, the fans have treated me well and looked after me, too. You really can feel their passion for this football club.”