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League Cup

CLIFTONVILLE: ROAD TO THE FINAL

10 Mar 2022
football
© Stephen Hamilton/PressEye Ryan Curran celebrates scoring in the semi-final win over Ballymena United

Cliftonville's path to Sunday's BetMcLean League Cup final was, on paper anyway, more challenging with each passing round.

It all began back in September when goals at the end of each half from Ryan Curran and Levi Ives helped the Reds to a 2-0 defeat of HW Welders at Solitude.

Curran opened the scoring on 40 minutes when he fired past the visiting keeper after the ball fell loose from a Jamie McDonagh corner.

Then, seven minutes from time, Ives made sure of a place in the next round with a curling free-kick into the top corner to give Ben McCauley no chance, just minutes after he smashed an effort against the crossbar.

The Reds followed that up with a visit to another Championship club, Ards, at the end of October and emerging comfortably on the right side of the 4-1 scoreline.

Johnny Addis met a corner to glance a header past Ards keeper Ethan Carry to kick the scoring off just after the half-hour mark.

The then Championship leaders levelled a couple of minutes into the second half courtesy of Jamie Glover's drilled finish but Cliftonville regained the advantage moments later after Chris Curran cut the ball back for Chris Gallagher to fire into the top corner.

Cliftonville's third arrived on 64 minutes with Ryan Curran's near post finish from Jamie McDonagh's right-sided cross before Joe Gormley completed the scoring with seven minutes remaining.

football
© PressEye Paul O'Neill gets past Ards' James Ferrin

The Reds met their first top flight opponents in the quarter-finals when they travelled to face Portadown at Shamrock Park.

Scoreless at the break, the home side broke the deadlock a couple of minutes through Lee Bonis who reacted quickest after Declan Dunne had initially kept out Adam Salley's effort.

Gormley came close to finding the equaliser with a quarter-of-an-hour to only to strike the crossbar with a header but, just a minute later, Ronan Doherty did bring the Reds back into it after connecting with a low cross to the near post with Jethren Barr unable to prevent the ball from going in.

Cliftonville then booked their place in the last four with the only goal of extra-time courtesy of substitute Daniel Kearns who found the net in the 97th minute.

Paddy McLaughlin's side were paired with Ballymena United in the semi-finals but, as it turned out, the Reds swept to a comfortable three-goal victory at Solitude.

Cliftonville's moved in front just before the half-hour mark when a low Gormley cross from the wide on the right was dummied by Paul O'Neill into the path of Ryan Curran who made no mistake from close range.

Curran almost doubled Cliftonville's lead on 35 minutes with an effort from outside the box which looked destined for the top corner but he did make it 2-0 moments from the break with a successfully converted spot-kick awarded after United keeper Jordan Williamson was adjudged to have upended Gormley.

Gormley then put the issue beyond doubt just six minutes into the second half after a Conor McDermott ball into the area was played back for him to send it rising high into the net despite Williamson getting a hand to it.