Cliftonville 1 HNK Cibalia 0: Cliftonville boss Eddie Patterson hailed his players after Ciaran Caldwell's late goal secured their first ever ‘home’ win in European competition last night.
The full-timers of HNK Cibalia might have enjoyed more possession at Windsor Park, but Cliftonville's better use of the ball made the difference; Caldwell converting after some superb build-up play from Liam Boyce.
“I can't praise the players enough,” said Patterson.
“To a man, they did everything we asked of them and more. They didn't shirk their responsibilities, maintained their discipline and helped create another piece of history for this football club.
“When you come up against a full-time team you know you're going to have to work hard and nobody let themselves down on that front. They believed in themselves — and that's what I asked of them. I told them they wouldn't be at the club if I didn't believe in them and it was time they shared my confidence.”
The goal came eight minutes from the end, but the Reds might have made the breakthrough after just four minutes when pressure from Chris Scannell led to goalkeeper Mladen Matkovic handling outside the area and, after picking up a booking for his troubles, the Croatian shot-stopper could only look on as George McMullan's free-kick clattered the inside of the post before Stephen Garrett hooked his follow-up over the top.
Dino Kresinger and Mario Lucic each sent long-range attempts wide of the mark before Tomislav Radotic shot straight at John Connolly, as Cibalia began to dominate the play.
The Reds emerged brighter after the break and, after McMullan had forced a save from Matkovic, Chris Scannell saw his half-volley fingertipped away.
Kresinger was again guilty of wastefulness, heading wide when he was completely unmarked inside the area, but Cliftonville's growing confidence was there for all to see and suddenly the lively Garrett found more room, with Caldwell enjoying more time of the ball in front of a hesitant visiting defence.
Cibalia's back four endured a few nervy moments before finally appearing to settle themselves for the late stages, only for Cliftonville to spring a surprise when Boyce's outrageous backheel almost sent Scannell through, but a touch from Lucic sent the ball towards Caldwell and he made no mistake, stroking in at the Kop end towards a delirious Reds’ support.
A one-handed save from Matkovic denied Caldwell from netting a second, but Cibalia were frustrated time and again by a disciplined Cliftonville backline.
“We're only at the halfway stage, but it's a great position to be in,” said Patterson. “We're taking a lead with us to Croatia and all I can ask from the players is that they show the same work rate and, who knows, maybe we can take this a step further?”
CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, R Scannell, B Holland, Donaghy, M Holland, McMullan, C Scannell, Garrett, Caldwell, Boyce, Catney. Subs: McKane,O'Hara, Smyth, O'Connor (for C Scannell, 83 mins), Patterson (for Boyce, 90 mins).
CIBALIA: Matkovic, Tomic, Kresinger, Grcic, Parmakovic, Radotic, Bovic, Auric, Baraban, Mazalovic, Lucic. Subs: Paradzikovic, Culjak, Duvnfar, Kvesic (for Grcic, 88 mins), Simunac (for Baraban, 81 mins), Prgomet (for Radotic, 86 mins), Halcic.
Referee: Stanislav Todorov (Bulgaria)