History repeated itself at Solitude last night as Cliftonville stood strong in the face of intense visiting pressure to record victory in the first leg of their Setanta Sports Cup joust with St Patrick’s Athletic.
Liam Boyce bagged the only goal of a game that saw the Dubliners pass up a plethora of golden opportunities before goalkeeper Brendan Clarke worked miracles to keep them in the tie.
The teams locked horns at the same stage of last year’s competition and, their progress secured on the basis of an emphatic 3-0 first leg home win, Cliftonville went in search of a similar outcome against their Airtricity Premier Division visitors.
The hosts were hoping to heal the still-fresh wounds of Friday’s tame Irish Cup elimination at the hands of Donegal Celtic and Martin Donnelly returned from suspension to add further threat to an attack which kicked off with youngsters Liam Boyce — making his first Solitude outing in almost two years — and Joe Gormley in tandem up front.
Both strikers had decent opportunities to make the breakthrough; Boyce smashing against the woodwork and Gormley forcing a low save out of Clarke.
At the other end, meanwhile, Chris Forrester sent a crisp strike just wide of the mark and Chris Fagan miscued from a good position before Mark Rossiter was denied by Ryan Brown.
The breakthrough came three minutes after the interval.
Donnelly touched a clever pass inside for Boyce, whose shot stung keeper Clarke’s fingertips en route to goal. Clarke produced two world-class late saves to keep his side in the tie.
Prior to that, however, it was at the other end where the night’s next goal looked more likely to come but, after Fagan had struck the post with a poor shot from close range, Forrester contrived to miss after James Chambers’ free-kick had rattled the woodwork.
Clarke’s clawed Donnelly’s goalbound first-time strike out from the top corner and, from the resulting corner, managed to stop Chris Scannell’s header from creeping over the line.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brown, McMullan, Garrett, Donnelly, Smyth, Seydak, McAlinden, Templeton, Gormley, McVeigh, Boyce. Subs: Connolly, C Scannell (for Gormley, 75 mins), Caldwell (for McAlinden, 4 mins), O’Carroll (for Garrett, 75 mins), McGonnigal, Cosgrove, Slane.
ST PAT’S: Clarke, O’Brien, Bermingham, Kenna, Browne, Chambers, Rossiter, Forrester, Meenan, Fagan, Carroll. Subs: O’Connor (for Carroll, 77 mins), Daly, Flynn, O’Flynn (for Meenan, 68 mins), Murphy, Kelly.
Referee: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon).