Cliftonville 1 Dundalk 3: Cliftonville face an uphill task if they are to progress to the Setanta Sports Cup final after falling to defeat against Dundalk in last night's semi-final first leg tie at Solitude.
Sacked boss Eddie Patterson was in the stands to watch as his former charges take a first-half lead through George McMullan but two goals from Mark Quigley either side of a tame Daniel Kearns effort put Dundalk firmly in the box-seat to make it a hat-trick of Belfast victories in the competition, having dumped Linfield and Glentoran out in previous rounds.
The post-Patterson era began with three changes from the side which drew with Donegal Celtic.
Skipper Chris Scannell was restored to the team, while Liam Fleming made his first start following a recent injury and Aaron Smyth continued his own recuperation with another start.
Out went defender Dermot McVeigh and Friday night goalscorer Conal Burns, both of whom were dropped to the subs bench, while Barry Johnston's absence saw Tony Kane spared his usual defensive duties in favour of forming a central midfield partnership with Ryan Catney.
The Reds might have been ahead after just seven minutes but goalkeeper Peter Cherrie was quick off his line to stop Scannell from getting on the end of Liam Fleming's pass.
A full 25 minutes had elapsed before Dundalk tested Cliftonville keeper Jack Duffin, who easily dealt with Jason Byrne's low drive from 18 yards, and, from his resulting kick upfield, the Reds broke the deadlock. Rory Donnelly's initial attempt was crowded out in a busy penalty box and, when possession fell into McMullan's pass, he produced a cool finish to claim the distinction of having opened the scoring — in the same bottom corner of the same net — in all three of his side's Setanta outings at Solitude this season.
Former Republic of Ireland international Byrne shot straight at Duffin, who also tipped a Quigley free-kick over the bar before the interval — but there was nothing he could do to stop the midfielder from lashing home a beauty of a strike from distance four minutes after the break.
An error from Duffin allowed the visitors to take the lead. Catney conceded possession and, though Kearns did well to win the ball and quickly surge forward, even he couldn't have imagined that his weak shot would somehow squeeze past the young keeper.
Quigley then wrapped things up with a fine curling strike nine minutes from time but the Reds might have handed themselves a fighting chance had substitute Mark Holland been able to stab home from close range.
CLIFTONVILLE: Duffin, Fleming, Hutton, Donaghy, McMullan, C Scannell, Garrett, Smyth, Catney, Kane, Donnelly. Subs: Wallace, M Holland (for C Scannell, 80 mins), O'Neill, Bannon, McVeigh (for Donaghy, 64 mins), Clarke (for Smyth, 90 mins).
DUNDALK: Cherrie, Hawkins, Kearns, Quigley, Byrne, Gaynor, N Murphy, Guthrie, McDonnell, Madden, Ward. Subs: Hector, P Murphy, Breen (for Byrne, 82 mins), Griffen
Referee: D Hancock (Dublin)