Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Cliftonville in raptures at Shield success

Cliftonville 2 Linfield 1

Cliftonville's Chris Scannell and Liam Fleming

Cliftonville's early season woes have been firmly put behind them as the north-Belfast club danced around Windsor Park holding the County Antrim Shield aloft tonight.

Eddie Patterson's side were strongly tipped to go a step further than their successive third placed finishes in the league at the start of the campaign. They currently sit just two places off the bottom of the Irish FA Premiership, but that didn't matter as their fans returned home.

It's just 18 months since the trophy last headed to Solitude. Back then it was little more than the Reds deserved in return for the entertainment and endeavour they had given in the league.

This time Patterson and his men will be hoping that the victory will be the catalyst to a revival after their unexpected slow start to the season.

In contrast confidence is now sure to be low in the Linfield dressing room. They said there was no crisis after suffering four successive defeats. Now, despite last week's emphatic 4-0 win over the Reds, the Blues have questions to answer. That win is the only one David Jeffrey's side have recorded in seven games.

Last week's Premiership game between the sides was pulsating, exciting and enthralling. Last night's encounter was anything but and the opening goal on 64 minutes really did breath life into proceedings.

Jeffrey, however, is sure to have asked questions of his defence after Scannell was afforded the time and space to control George McMullan's right-wing free-kick 12 yards out before volleying into the top corner of the net.

At last we had a game on our hands, Jeffrey immediately brought on Jamie Mulgrew and Conor Hagan - both of whom have been out with hamstring injuries and were only expected to make their returns in a reserve game tomorrow night.

Four minutes later it looked like game over though when the Reds added the second.

Again it was Scannell at the centre of things. He delayed his run, coming from inside his own half to ensure he stayed onside, and sprinted away from the Linfield defence. The chance looked to have gone when he elected to go wide of Johnny Harkness instead of cutting inside on his right foot, but then the Linfield left-back made a challenge inside the box and although he appeared to have got at least his toe to the ball referee David Malcolm awarded a penalty. Francis Murphy took on the responsibility for the spot-kick and delivered the ball right footed into the bottom left hand corner past Stuart Addis.

That wasn't the end though.

Linfield may not be in the best of form, but their attitude will never change and the Blues never give up.

Substitute Mark Miskimmin fired home the rebound from Michael Carvill's shot 11 minutes before time; a goal which stopped the flow of Bluemen through the exits.

They threw everything at Cliftonville in the closing stages and the gaps at the back allowed the Reds to break and come close to extending their lead on a couple of occasions, most notably when Scannell stumbled inside the box with only Addis to beat.

Glenn Ferguson, who has rescued his team with late goals many, many times, almost did it again in the dying seconds, but headed over the bar from a couple of yards out.

Scannell didn't steal all the glory for himself. When he lifted the trophy at the end injured club captain Liam Fleming joined him and the celebrations began in earnest.

CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, B Holland, Donaghy, O'Hara, R Scannell, Hamill, O'Connor, McMullan, F Murphy, C Scannell, M Holland. Subs: O'Neill, Catney, Patterson, Boyd, Boyce.

LINFIELD: Addis, Burns, W Murphy, Bailie, Harkness, Carvill, McAreavey, Curran, O'Kane, Munster, Ferguson. Subs: Douglas, Hagan, Miskimmin, Martin, Mulgrew.

Referee: David Malcolm (Bangor).