Mark Surgenor and Chris Curran contest possession (©INPHO/Jonathan Porter)
Saturday, 17 March 2018
A Joe Gormley goal midway through the first half was enough for Cliftonville to defeat Carrick Rangers at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena.
Ruiari Harkin might have fired the Reds in front early on with a strong 30-yard effort which appeared to be looping into the net until 'keeper Harry Doherty got a touch to push it over.
Harkin was involved again with a lay-off for Conor McDonald, but he could only blaze over despite being unmarked in the box.
The Reds found a way through on 24 minutes. Chris Curran provided the cross which Jay Donnelly initially turned towards goal before the ball fell for Gormley to bury into the bottom corner.
Rangers created more after the break with Jonathan Smith testing Brian Neeson on 49 minutes with an ultimately tame effort. Then, just after the hour mark, Mark Surgenor fired wide after another Smith effort was initially blocked.
And Damien McNulty came even closer on 69 minutes when his looping header from a long throw-in came off the top of the bar.
But Cliftonville finished strongly, twice coming close during the closing exchanges when Jay Donnelly got past two defenders only for Paddy McNally to block his shot while Jude Winchester was played through only to fire just wide.
Carrick Rangers: Doherty, Edgar, Surgenor, McNally, Taggart, J. Smith, McAllister, Larmour, Hassin, Henderson, McNulty subs Chapman (not used), Scannell (replaced Surgenor 70), M. Smith (not used), Nimick (replaced Taggart 60), Mooney (replaced Edgar 81)
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Breen, Harney, Curran, Harkin, Gormley, J. Donnelly, Lavery, Grimes, McDonald subs Dunne (not used), Ives (replaced Breen 20), Bagnall (not used), Winchester (replaced McDonald 72), R. Donnelly (replaced Lavery 66)
Referee: Evan Boyce