Glentoran narrowly lost out on a Europa League spot in an incident packed game at Solitude. With four players suspended manager Alan Kernaghan was forced to make changes following Friday’s semi-final win at Coleraine with Steven McCullough, David Scullion and Danny McKee coming into the starting eleven.
Cliftonville opened the scoring after eleven minutes; James Knowles’s left wing corner was met by Jay Donnelly, his shot came off the bar but he was able to nod home the rebound. But the Glens were level just three minutes later. Danny McKee was brought down by a crude challenge from Fra Brennan and Curtis Allen stepped up to fire an unstoppable free kick which flew into the top left hand corner.
The Glens were clearly buoyed by this equaliser and after 28 minutes got their noses in front. Some tenacious play from Chris Lavery won a corner on the left which he swung in himself and Jay Magee rose highest to head the ball home.
Just before the break there was a penalty shout from Cliftonville as the ball struck Magee’s hand as he stumbled in the area but referee Raymond Crangle deemed it to be accidental. As the half time whistle went the away end was in buoyant mood but before the players left the pitch an unseemly melee developed in the centre circle involving most of the 22 players. During the half time break it emerged that Chris Lavery and Cliftonville ‘keeper Conor Devlin had been shown red cards and so both sides came out for the second half a man down, Cliftonville’s reserve ‘keeper Peter Burke coming on at the expense of striker Darren Murray.
Cliftonville came out of the blocks the quicker in the second period and just five minutes in came the turning point in the game. Stephen Garrett powered through the middle and just as he looked as though he would score was brought down by Barry Holland. Referee Crangle pointed to the spot and, as it turned out, more significantly showed a red card to the Glens captain. Jay Donnelly stepped up to take the kick but his effort was a poor one and was comfortably saved by Elliott Morris allowing the nine men to retain their slender advantage. However the home side then pushed forward at every opportunity and on 61 minutes came what seemed the inevitable equaliser. Garrett was again involved, this time sending in a cross from the left which struck Curtis Allen on the arm and Mr Crangle ruled it to be deliberate hand ball. Knowles was given the responsibility this time and made no mistake, sending the ball low to Morris’s right and into the corner of the net.
Cliftonville were now dominating possession but the defence was holding firm and Morris denied Donnelly with a superb save after 77 minutes. However with 10 minutes left the pressure finally told as Cliftonville grabbed the winner. Substitute Davy McDaid cut in from the left and fired a shot from the edge of the box which sneaked in at Morris’s right hand post.
There were a few late sorties forward from the Glens, mainly from free kicks into the box, but Burke was largely untroubled and the referee’s whistle signalled the end of the season and the end of Glentoran’s tilt at Europa League qualification. A disappointing evening but with circumstances going against them few could fault the team’s effort on the night, a fact acknowledged by the visiting support who applauded their side off the pitch.
Elliott Morris, Barry Holland, Jay Magee (sub Kristian Gibson 65 mins), Jonny Addis, Steven McCullough, David Scullion (sub Steven Gordon 57 mins), Ciaran Caldwell, Kym Nelson (sub Patrick Cafolla 80 mins), Chris Lavery, Curtis Allen, Danny McKee
Photographs by Thomas Sewell