Saturday, 11 May 2019
Extra-time goals from Joe Gormley and Conor McMenamin helped Cliftonville secure a place in the Europa League with victory over Glentoran in the play-off final at Solitude.
With so much at stake it was perhaps no surprise that neither side really gained the upper hand in a first 45 minutes that turned out to be a series of half chances created as play continually switched from end to end.
The Glens were first to enjoy a spell of possession when first Darren Murray dragged an effort wide of the near post from outside the area while, moments later, Curtis Allen headed goalwards from John Herron's cross to produce a fingertip save from Brian Neeson, although the offside flag had been raised.
For Cliftonville McMenamin fired straight at Dwayne Nelson before flashing another effort just wide. Gormley then laid the ball off for Aaron Harkin to shoot over from outside the area.
Back at the other end Herron nutmegged Levi Ives but could only curl the ball the wrong side of the target with Robbie McDaid then smashing an effort over after dispossessing Jamie Harney. McDaid then flicked another chance, a header, past an upright.
Cliftonville had a late flourish just before the break with Joe Gorman sending a free-kick into Nelson arms, with Gormley then attempting an ambitious drive from inside his own half moments after that.
And the Reds looked the more likely to find a way through during the opening passage of the second half with Harkin testing Nelson with a free-kick, before the keeper then palmed away a Ryan Curran effort.
But, as with the first half, it wasn't long before the Glens crafted some opportunities, most notably a Murray overhead kick in front of goal after Allen had flicked the ball on from the near post.
However Cliftonville did enjoy the lions' share of possession and pressure, albeit without much end product in front of goal.
With extra-time looming large, both sides pressed during the closing minutes of normal time. Allen shot over for the Glens on 86 minutes, Ryan Curran crossed for Garry Breen but he blasted over from an angle and a McDaid drive took a deflection before ending up in the grateful arms of Reds keeper Neeson.
Moving into extra-time, Gavin Peers almost broke the deadlock in Glentoran's favour when, from a McDaid inswinging corner, he was allowed the space to head over.
But then play switched back down the other end once more with Ryan Curran working his way past a couple of defenders before his shot was deflected away for a corner.
Liam Bagnall almost found a way through on 104 minutes after the ball fell for him from a free-kick but his dipping effort whistled just past the post.
However, right at the end of the first period of extra-time Cliftonville eventually found a way through when Gormley got on the end of a long punt forward to keep his composure and knock the ball past Nelson into the empty net.
Needing to push for the equaliser, Glentoran tested Neeson through Herron's powerfully struck free-kick from outside the area which was tipped over while the corner that followed landed on the roof of the net.
But, in the final minute, Paddy McLaughlin's side settled the issue when McMenamin won the ball off Pepper and proceeded to run through the defence before coolly dinking the ball over Nelson.
Cliftonville: Neeson, Ives, Breen, Harney, C. Curran, R. Curran, A. Harkin, Bagnall, Gormley, McMenamin, Gorman subs McKenna (not used), McGovern (not used), Garrett (not used), McConnell (not used), Maguire (not used), A. Donnelly (not used), Rocks (not used)
Glentoran: Nelson, Garrett, Kane, Peers, C. Gallagher, Herron, Allen, McDaid, Kerr, Pepper, Murray subs McLaughlin (not used), Birney (replaced Garrett 93), McMahon (replaced C. Gallagher 73), Gordon (replaced Kerr 81), O'Neill (not used), Gwiazda (not used), Glover (not used)
Referee: Andrew Davey
|Joe Gormley||13||105 +1|