Cliftonville were dumped out of the Setanta Sports Cup at Solitude last night, but their supporters still had plenty to cheer on a rain-soaked night at Donegal Celtic Park.
The efforts of a young team, which included rookies Mark Patterson and Ciaran Boyd, did enough to suggest there’s reason to be optimistic about the future, while the second-half return from injury of Vincent Sweeney certainly lifted the spirits.
The biggest roar of the night, though, was reserved for Conor Downey, who was paraded to the fans after the game as his will he-won’t he transfer saga finally came to a conclusion when the Reds reached agreement with Linfield over his signature.
The travelling Cork supporters enjoyed their night, too, and they had every reason to do so as two Denis Behan goals secured their place in the last four with two matches still to spare.
The Reds made five changes to the side defeated by Glentoran at the weekend and it was one of the new faces who impressed most. Goalkeeper David Wells – making his second debut for the club – kept Cork at bay time and again with a commanding display to ensure the Rebel Army didn’t run up the cricket score they had threatened for so long.
Wells denied Joe Gamble, Sean Kelly and Behan before doing superbly to deal with a vicious Darren Murphy drive which skidded
along the slick surface en route to the veteran keeper’s safe hands.
He could do nothing to deny Behan on 39 minutes, though, as he raced on to an excellent through ball and unleashed a first-time effort into the top corner.
The Reds – once again operating at their temporary west Belfast abode while Solitude undergoes some reconstruction – improved after the break.
Defensive hesitancy allowed Alan O’Connor in but Wells was quick off his line to make the block, although the former Portadown net-minder was once again powerless to stop Behan finding the net on 82 minutes.
He claimed possession just inside the box, spun Ciaran Donaghy and smashed a powerful rocket into the roof of the net to secure maximum points for the visitors.
The Reds now face two dead-rubbers in their 2008 Setanta Sports campaign but, with Sweeney and Downey back on board, bossman Patterson will be hoping to make a greater impression in the 2009 competition.
CLIFTONVILLE: Wells, B Holland, O’Hara, Boyd, M Holland, Patterson, Catney, McMullan, C Scannell, Hamill, Donaghy. Subs: Smyth, McAlinden, Murphy, O’Neill, Sweeney (Hamill, 80 mins), Lagan, Connolly
CORK CITY: Devine, Ryan, Darren Murphy, Gamble, Lordan, Healy, Murphy, Behan, Kelly, O’Connor, Danny Murphy. Subs: Horgan, McNulty, Cambridge (O’Connor, 86 mins), Kiely (Darren Murphy, 89 mins), Sullivan, Dineen (Behan, 90 mins), Kearney
Referee: Alan Black (Antrim).