01 May 2024
© Presseye Ben Kennedy celebrates for Crusaders

Crusaders and Coleraine both produced convincing semi-final displays to take step closer to European football next season.

Crusaders 3-1 Carrick Rangers

At Seaview, fourth placed Crusaders took little time to assert their authority in the tie as great sweeping build up play by Ben Kennedy and Ross Clarke, resulted in the latter’s cross being headed home by Adam Lecky at the near post after just seven minutes.

The home side doubled their advantage with half-time looming as Carrick failed to clear Jordan Forsythe’s looping cross, as Philip Lowry teed up Stewart Nixon on the edge of the box, and he rifled home past his former club.

Carrick Rangers did pull a goal back in the dying embers of the first half, as Danny Gibson poked the ball past Jonathan Tuffey from close range.

Stephen Baxter’s side restored their two goal lead on 54 minutes, as Ross Clarke turned provider again, as he held off a strong challenge to loft a dangerous cross into the penalty area as Ben Kennedy rose highest to nod past Glendinning.

Carrick pushed to get back in the game, and had a goal disallowed late on, but Crusaders qualify for Monday’s European Playoff final and will have home advantage as the highest ranked team in the regular season in the Sports Direct Premiership.

© Inpho Jamie McGonigle scores Coleraine's third

Glentoran 0-3 Coleraine

Oran Kearney’s Coleraine kicked off a memorable playoff victory on 21 minutes, as striker Jamie McGonigle nodded home Andy Scott’s cross to open the scoring at the BetMcLean Oval.

On the stroke of half-time, Coleraine extended their lead in bizarre fashion, as Jamie Glackin’s stringing drive was well saved initially by Aaron McCarey, but a disastrous mix-up between goalkeeper and his defender Luke McCullough allowed the opportunistic Lyndon Kane to nip force the ball into the back of the Glentoran goal.

Glentoran pushed hard to get back in the game, but it was the Bannsiders who sealed their passage to the final on 70 minutes, Jamie McGonigle’s expertly worked corner routine with Jamie Glackin allowed the striker space and time to fire his second goal of the evening under McCarey.

The home side’s evening went from bad to worse with five minutes remaining as Fuad Sule was sent-off for his second booking for a challenge on Matthew Shevlin.

The European Playoff Final will take place on Monday 6 May 2024, as Crusaders will host Coleraine at Seaview (kick-off: 3pm) with a place in the UEFA Conference League up for grabs for the winner.