Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville are on course for Europe

Cliftonville 4 - Portadown 0

By Conor McLaughlin

Tommy Breslin has implored his Cliftonville players to take full advantage of the position they have played their way into.

The Reds returned to one of the Danske Bank Premiership's European slots for the first time since Christmas thanks to Saturday's 4-0 victory over 10-man Portadown, during which Joe Gormley plundered yet another hat-trick en route to shattering a club goalscoring record.

The striker beat stand-in goalkeeper Darren Murray from the penalty spot either side of a deft header before Martin Donnelly's late strike as Cliftonville pulled three points clear in the race for Europa League football.

The outgoing champions travel to fellow challengers Glenavon tomorrow afternoon and Breslin says the magnitude of the occasion must not be lost on his men.

"The way the fixtures have worked out after the split, each one gets more important as you go along," he said.

"Portadown was our biggest game of the season because we were both neck and neck for third place in the table and now that match has gone, Glenavon becomes the biggest game.

"They're probably the form team in the league at the minute and it's only a few weeks since they beat us. They've since gone on to defeat Linfield and Glentoran so they'll be full of confidence and belief that they can rein us in by beating us again.

"There aren't a lot of points separating third and sixth, so it's going to be nip and tuck over these next few weeks, but we've put ourselves in a good position to hopefully go on and make sure of things.

"We're only four points behind Linfield and our aim is to get as many points as we can out of our next four matches and see where that takes us.

"We've had two good wins in a row now but it's important we build on that by taking the right approach and the right attitude down to Mourneview with us on Tuesday because Glenavon are a good side who are firmly in the hunt for Europe themselves. European football is important to the club financially but it also means a lot to players and supporters to make sure we're involved."

Things got off to the perfect start on Saturday when the Ports - missing the likes of goalkeeper David Miskelly, defenders Garry Breen and Chris Ramsey, midfield duo Robert Garrett and Michael Gault and striker Mark McAllister, and with experienced heads Keith O'Hara and Gary Twigg only fit enough for a place on the bench - had keeper Billy Brennan dismissed for a fourth-minute foul on Johnny McMurray.

Striker Murray donned the gloves but was powerless to prevent Gormley rifling home from the spot and then heading in on 50 minutes to claim his 38th goal of the season - a new Cliftonville record, beating the 37 set by Gormley last year.

The 24-year-old, who is now fourth in the club's all-time top scorers list, went on to wrap up his fifth treble of the campaign with another penalty ahead of Donnelly getting the better of his cousin, Murray, with a minute left on the clock.

Portadown assistant manager Kieran Harding - whose side have recorded just one Premiership victory in three months - said: "It was game over as soon as our goalkeeper was sent off.

"Darren Murray has always said he would go into goals if it was ever needed and, though Tim Mouncey was also talking about it, Darren felt confident about doing it and I actually think he did quite well.

"Looking at the positives, we were able to give quite a number of young players an opportunity and we actually had five youth team players out on the pitch, so hopefully that's something we'll be able to build on in the future.

"I thought Peter McMahon was excellent as a lone striker and Ken Oman dealt pretty well with whatever was thrown at him at the back, but it was always going to be tough for us regardless of the sending off, which obviously just made things much harder.

"We now have a huge game against Crusaders on Tuesday and hopefully we'll have Miskelly, Gault and Breen back for that one."

Cliftonville: Cherrie, M Donnelly, Knowles, Seydak, Smyth, Catney, Gormley, J Donnelly, Cosgrove, Bonner, McMurray. Substitutions: Scannell (Seydak, 70 mins), McDaid (McMurray, 57 mins), Winchester (J Donnelly, 62 mins).

Portadown: Brennan, Casement, Redman, Mouncey, P McMahon, Mackle, Murray, Oman, Conaty, Lyttle, Richardson. Substitutions: Judge (Mouncey, 88 mins), McElroy (Conaty, 36 mins), Stewart (Richardson, 81 mins).

Man of the match: James Knowles

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).

Belfast Telegraph


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