Cliftonville Olympic torch Ards Intermediate Cup mission
Ards 0-1 Cliftonville Oly
Cliftonville may have landed their fourth League Cup on Saturday, but just a few short hours beforehand, their up-and-coming reserves sent an equally significant message to the rest of local football by dumping Ards out of the Intermediate Cup.
For while Tommy Breslin's first XI have been the Danske Bank Premier League's standard bearers for the last couple of years, the cogs of a productive and successful youth set-up at Solitude have been turning away.
And one of the key figures overseeing that crucial process, Cliftonville Olympic manager Michael Press, was particularly delighted with the manner in which his young side disposed of one of the favourites.
"We played Carrick in the Steel & Sons Cup and were 3-3 with them after 80 minutes and ended up losing 6-3… I think we learnt from that," reflected the gaffer.
"We are a team that likes to play good football and score plenty of goals but we don't always have to attack. Ards are a top side, and we were much more disciplined in the way we approached the game, and got our rewards.
"To get into Cliftonville's first team you have to be a special player, and I felt a handful of our boys really showed they are."
It appeared the Reds' second string had come to the Bangor Fuels Arena with a defence-minded game plan, yet they almost took the lead as early as the second minute when Conal McCandless' header from a Conor Doran cross was blocked on the line by Mark Clarke.
From there, it appeared to be wave after wave of Ards attack, without an end product. Visiting goalkeeper Matthew Gibson did well to make a tackling save to claim the ball from William Faulkner in a goal-scoring position, while a Brendan Shannon strike was deflected out for a corner.
There seemed to be a desperation from Ards to get an early goal, as Shane Dolan first inadvertently got in the way of his captain James Cully's shot, and then shortly afterwards, his hurried volley flew over the crossbar.
Debutant Colum Curtis could well have had his first goal in the 18th minute, when he skipped through several challenges, but the alert Gibson came rushing out to close him down, and a minute later Gerry Thompson came to Olympic's rescue, heading John Convery's header from a corner off the line.
"Disciplined" was certainly the right word to describe this performance from the young Reds, who only threw any significant numbers forward when they felt they could afford to.
On one such counter, Patrick McAllister was sent clean through, only to be denied by an excellent Aaron Shanahan save.
It was perhaps a sign of how things were panning out when a decent David McAllister effort from all of 30 yards proved to be the closest of the first half hour, while a Curtis strike 10 yards nearer lacked the power to trouble Gibson.
Still Ards kept up the attack, and still they cursed themselves for squandered opportunities, with Curtis lashing a free kick from just outside the box over, Doran intercepting a Greg Hall cross towards David McAllister with a well-timed header, and Faulkner bursting through only to scuff a poor shot wide.
At the other end, Thompson did well to charge down the left flank unhindered, but his cross was unable to pick out a team-mate.
Ards finished the half with Convery driving over, a Faulkner effort comfortably saved, and the realisation they would have to make a chance in the next 45 minutes count.
However, to their downfall, they looked even less likely to find the net in the second spell, with clear-cut opportunities, by now, at even more of a premium.
In the 61st minute, Ross Arthurs chested down the ball on the edge of the area, but the strike trickled past his post.
The hosts' heads were beginning to drop, and a sloppy attempted back-pass from Cully fell short, allowing Johnny McMurray through, but Shanahan narrowed the gap.
The Ards keeper again excelled seconds later as he produced a sprawling save to deny McMurray again.
The first and only time Gibson was seriously tested in the second half was from a rasping Shannon effort in the 73rd minute, with the keeper tipping expertly over the bar.
Soon after, Convery was left to rue a badly-timed challenge on Ross Lavery in the box which earned him a booking and Olympic a penalty.
McCandless tucked the spot-kick down the middle to give the visitors the decisive goal - and fuming Ards boss Niall Quinn didn't mince his words in the aftermath.
"That's the worst performance I've been involved with in the last 10 years," he stated.
"It was disgraceful, and we got what we deserved.
"It means our supporters suffer, as we'll have a few blank weekends without a fixture now.
"Those Cliftonville kids are on the way up, but unfortunately some of our players think they have already arrived.
"Well, I would go with the kids every day of the week."
Aaron Shanahan: A relatively quiet afternoon. 6
Greg Hall: Quick to close down his opponents. 7
John Convery: Strong in the air, but cost his team dear. 6
James Cully: Passing not always at its best. 6
Brendan Shannon: Tried to get things moving from the back. 7
Ross Arthurs: Found team-mates well. 7
Mark Clarke: Deserves credit. 7
William Faulkner: Needs to be more clinical. 6
Colum Curtis: Showed a touch of skill and promise. 7
David McAllister: Good pace. 7
Shane Dolan: Unable to make a big impact. 6
Gary Warwick: For Dolan, 56
Owain Beggs: For Curtis, 56
Craig McMillen: For McAllister, 79
Matthew Gibson: Saved all that came his way. 8
Conor Doran: Made several good tackles. 8
Gerry Thompson: Played with plenty of confidence. 9
Conor Morgan: Cool head. 7
Ryan Arthur: An authoritative display. 8
John Donnelly: Kept things ticking along in midfield. 7
Richard Gowdy: Solid. 7
Conal McCandless: Held his own and took spot-kick well. 9
Johnny McMurray: Imposing presence, should have scored. 8
Patrick McAllister: Showed good positional awareness. 7
Ross Lavery: Tricky. 9
Michael Tolan: For McAllister, 87
Lawrence Whiffen: Not used
Daniel Kelly: Not used
Andrew Mooney: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Gerry Thompson (Cliftonville Olympic). His efficiency in defence, but also in going forward typified the team's performance.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Conal McCandless' goal from the penalty spot - the game's decisive moment.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: There were good saves from both keepers, but Aaron Shanahan's quick thinking to keep out Johnny McMurray twice in the 63rd minute caught the eye.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: John Convery's late challenge on Ross Lavery to concede the winning penalty.