Armagh City 2 (S McGerrigan, Carvill)
The game kicked-off at a foggy Holm Park, with both sides keen to put their league struggles behind them and secure a place in the January final.
The Villagers got off to a perfect start, grabbing a set-piece lead inside six minutes. Steven Ferguson swung in a free-kick from the left after Dale Montgomery had impeded Peter Campbell, and defender Andy Devlin rose highest to nod the ball past John Connolly in the City goal.
The early shock spurred Armagh into action, although they had to wait until midway through the half for their first effort on goal. Shea Campbell’s hard work on the left wing was rewarded as he forced a loose ball towards Shea McGerrigan who fired an ambitious shot from a wide angle which had Loughgall keeper Gareth Buchanan scrambling before the ball drifted harmlessly wide of the goal.
The attempt gave Marty Rice’s side confidence, and five minutes later Andrew Hoey had a great chance to equalise after good work on the left by Philip Donnelly and McGerrigan, but Ryan Canning did well to block Hoey’s left-footed shot.
At the other end, Peter Campbell was posing a threat on the left wing, while Warner Mullen was proving a handful with his strong hold-up play. Indeed, Connolly had to come to City’s rescue seven minutes before the break, when Mullen’s intelligent pass put John Uprichard through on goal, but the veteran keeper rushed out sharply to save with his legs.
Just as it seemed like Loughgall would go in with a lead at the break, City conjured the best move of the half in injury time. Montgomery’s throw down the right was flicked on by Jordan Bell to Donnelly who laid the ball back out to Shea Campbell on the right sideline. His first-time cross was met and dispatched perfectly by the on-rushing McGerrigan to put Armagh on level terms with the last kick of the half.
Loughgall manager Dean Smith made a half-time substitution, replacing striker Mullen with former City winger Francis McCann, although it was Armagh who had the better of the early exchanges after the break, although they struggled to muster anything to worry Buchanan until a free-kick was awarded just outside his penalty area on 62 minutes.
City full-back Paul Carvill duly dispatched the ball into the top corner with a beautiful curling effort that gave the Loughgall keeper no chance, for his second goal in as many games.
By this stage, City were in control and looked the most likely side to grab the next goal. Hesitation in the Loughgall defence almost gifted City a two-goal cushion, but McGerrigan couldn’t force the ball home from a tight angle and eventually Loughgall cleared the danger.
Smith’s side turned on the pressure in the dying minutes, with Uprichard having an appeal for a free-kick in a dangerous area turned away after he tried to evade City defender Eoin Toal, while Mark McConnell forced Connolly into a diving save as time ran out for the Villagers.
The full-time whistle secured City’s place in their third consecutive Mid-Ulster Cup final, as they look to replicate their only triumph in the competition, when the trophy made its way to Holm Park back in 2001. The final against Warrenpoint Town will be played on Tuesday 24 January 2017.
Armagh City have two further games before Christmas, with H&W Welders visiting Holm Park on Saturday, 10 December, in a NIFL Championship clash kicking-off at 3pm. Then, on Saturday 17 December, Marty Rice’s side will travel to Institute for a rearranged Championship game following last week’s postponement due to a frozen pitch.
Armagh City: John Connolly, Shea Campbell (Conor Mullen), Dale Montgomery, Ultan Lennon, Eoin Toal, Jordan Bell, Andrew Hoey (Johnny McSorley), Sean Mallon, Paul Carvill, Philip Donnelly, Shea McGerrigan. Subs not used: Stefan Graham, Ben Rice, Luke Grimley.
Loughgall: Gareth Buchanan, Andy Devlin, Graham Taylor, Ricky Copeland, Ryan Canning, Marcus Dallas, Mark McConnell, Steven Ferguson, Warner Mullen (Francis McCann), John Uprichard, Peter Campbell. Subs not used: Nicky Hudson, Paul Stretton, Reece McInerney, Stefan McMaster.