Cliftonville booked their place in the IRN-BRU League Cup Final with a confident victory over a battling Glenavon at Solitude on Tuesday night.
After weathering a brief early storm, the Reds took a grip on the game in the latter stages of the first-half and opened the scoring through Stephen Garrett on the stroke of half time before second period conversions from George McMullan and Liam Boyce wrapped things up for Tommy Breslin’s men.
Lurgan Blues player-manager Gary Hamilton has never made any secret of his opposition to synthetic playing areas and, having claimed in the lead-up to the match that Solitude’s 3G surface would lend Cliftonville an overwhelming advantage, also voiced his concerns about the effects the north Belfast chill would have on the pitch.
Referee Raymond Hetherington was, however, unperturbed and it was perhaps no surprise to see Hamilton — so effective in the Lurgan Blues’ weekend victory over Lisburn Distillery — name himself on the visitors’ bench, while Mark Turkington was handed a start in the absence of Kyle Neill, who is set for a brief spell out of action through family commitments in Australia.
Home boss Breslin also made a couple of changes to his line-up with Tomas Cosgrove’s injury facilitating the return from suspension of George McMullan at right-back, while Barry Johnston’s recent fine form in substitute roles earned him a start in place of James Knowles.
Twelve months on from defeat in a mammoth League Cup semi final with Coleraine at the same venue, the Reds were determined to go one better this time around and almost got off to a dream start only for Johnston to drive over from a promising position.
Andy McGrory then hooked an effort wide at the other end before Glenavon defender Eddie McCallion turned the ball against his own post in a frantic contest that saw both goalkeepers excel.
First, Guy Bates’ point-blank volley was repelled by Conor Devlin before opposite number Andy Coleman somehow clawed the ball off the line after Stephen Garrett and Ryan Catney had combined to turn George McMullan’s cross goalward.
The breakthrough finally came in first-half injury-time with Cliftonville’s late pressure rewarded when good work from Boyce saw Garrett threaded through and he made no mistake with a firm finish beyond Coleman’s despairing dive.
Though Glenavon had enjoyed a bright start to the evening, Cliftonville assumed greater control the longer the game progressed and it always seemed likely that a second goal would be enough to knock the stuffing out of the visitors — and so it proved.
Though contact looked minimal, ref Hetherington adjudged that Kris Lindsay’s nudge on Boyce was worthy of a 61st minute spot-kick and up stepped McMullan to send Coleman the wrong way.
The Lurgan Blues’ best chance of setting up a grandstand finale came when Ciaran Martyn saw a close-range snapshot blocked by Jaimie McGovern but it was game, set and match for Cliftonville shortly afterwards when Martin Donnelly’s clipped free-kick was nodded home by Boyce.
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, R Scannell, Johnston, McMullan, Garrett, Donnelly, Smyth, Catney, Gormley, Boyce. Subs: Holland, O’Carroll (for Gormley, 65 mins), Seydak (for Scannell, 41 mins), Lynch (for Donnelly, 85 mins), Knowles.
GLENAVON: Coleman, McCallion, Haughey, Kilmartin, Doherty, Bates, Lindsay, McGrory, Turkington, Martyn, Henderson. Subs: McCashin, Hagan (for McCallion, 41 mins), Mitchell (for Doherty, 58 mins), Greenaway, Hamilton (for Turkington, 74 mins).
Referee: R Hetherington (Dungannon).