Belfast Telegraph

Red-hot Joe Gormley's double has final say for Cliftonville victory

Cliftonville 4 Bangor 3

By Conor McLaughlin

Tommy Breslin admitted to mixed emotions after holders Cliftonville were made to fight all the way for their place in the Wasp Solutions League Cup final by spirited Bangor.

Twice the Seasiders battled from behind but their hopes of performing an epic Solitude turnaround were undone when ace marksman Joe Gormley had the final say.

A Thomas Wray own goal had Cliftonville ahead and Jay Donnelly's strike looked to have put the hosts on easy street only for Barry Walsh and Richard Gibson to drag Bangor back level early in the second-half.

A sensational Gormley effort was matched for class by Paul McDowell's delightful leveller ahead of Gormley finally having the decisive word with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Pleased though Breslin was to see his men march through, he cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

"Semi-finals are about winning and we've done that, which is the most important thing," he said.

"All the plaudits go to Bangor for the way they played but we're disappointed to have conceded three goals and it was a much harder night than any of us would have wanted.

"I saw their games when they beat Glentoran and Crusaders and I saw the amount of chances their opponents missed, which was something I had warned our players about. Then I'm seeing the same sort of thing happen to us throughout that first half when we could have had four or five.

"I have to commend my own players as well because they could have buckled but we got the job done."

It was Breslin's men who enjoyed the bulk of the forward motion early on and, after Jay Donnelly had nodded wide, keeper Cairnduff proved his worth with a save from Gormley and a rescue act just when McDaid looked set to capitalise on an error.

It looked like taking something special to beat him and, sadly for Bangor, it was team-mate Wray who eventually did so; turning McDaid's cross into his own net.

Within a minute, it was 2-0 as the north Down side suffered a real double blow. Though Cairnduff did well to stop Martin Donnelly scoring from distance, namesake Jay was on hand to score with the follow-up while the keeper lay prostrate in an unfortunate end to his involvement.

Replacement Darren Gibbons almost conceded a penalty with his first touch but just about got the ball as Gormley bore down and that would prove telling because, 60 seconds later, the ball was in the net at the other end as Walsh swept home to give Bangor hope at the interval.

And, when Martin Donnelly had to clear a Forsythe effort off the line at the start of the second-half, home nerves started to jangle.

They had every reason to because, shortly afterwards, substitute Gibson pounced to power home a header to make it 2-2 and spark hopes of a turnaround - but Gormley once again demonstrated his predatory instincts with a sensational long-range strike.

Any hopes Cliftonville had that Bangor's spirit would be broken by that goal were kicked into touch when they levelled again - and McDowell's inch-perfect execution of a lobbed finish was worthy of the raucous reception it was met with.

With 15 minutes left, it looked like the next goal would win it and it was the Reds who stepped up with Gibbons' save from a Jude Winchester strike falling to Gormley and he stooped to head in to finally kill off the Seasiders, who will have their chance to exact revenge when the sides lock horns again in the County Antrim Shield decider in just four weeks.

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