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Glenavon expose Cliftonville flaws with a five-star performance

Cliftonville 3 Glenavon 5

By Conor McLaughlin

Glenavon scored five goals courtesy of set-pieces to overcome Cliftonville and take a giant stride towards Europe.

Be it corners or free-kicks, the Lurgan Blues sensed their opponents' vulnerability and, though it was the hosts who led at the interval, Gary Hamilton's men took control after the break to romp to a 5-3 success.

After Rhys Marshall opened the scoring, goals from Jude Winchester and Chris Curran put the Reds in front and, though Greg Moorhouse would level, Jay Donnelly's header made it 3-2 to Cliftonville at the end of a pulsating first half.

The next goal was always likely to be key and Glenavon got it quickly courtesy of James Singleton, with James Gray's header and an Andy McGrory penalty wrapping up a deserved success.

They will now travel to face Ballymena United on Friday night, when a money-spinning place in next month's Europa League first qualifying round draw will be up for grabs.

Home boss Tommy Breslin named a side boasting no fewer than nine players he had worked with during his first tenure with the Reds and, with Caoimhin Bonner stepping in for the suspended Chris Ramsey, listed just a single amendment to the team defeated by Linfield.

Hamilton, meanwhile, opted for experience over youth in his Glenavon XI, although young striker Jordan Jenkins - impressive during the final few weeks of a Danske Bank Premiership campaign in which the Lurgan Blues rotated their line-up in preparation for their shot at the play-offs - was selected on a bench which also boasted the not inconsiderable expertise of veterans Kyle Neill and Ciaran Martyn.

Little more than a fortnight after the Mourneview men clocked up a routine 3-1 success over Cliftonville at the same venue, Breslin - whose permanent successor could be unveiled as early as tomorrow - could barely have feared a worse start as Marshall rose to head Glenavon in front with three minutes on the clock.

The hosts hit back quickly, however, when Winchester picked his spot from distance and they were 2-1 up just past the half-hour thanks to a delightful strike from Curran, who got the better of goalkeeper Jonathan Tuffey after a mazy run.

If the Reds thought that turnaround had put them in control, they were in for a shock because a sensational first half continued with a Lurgan Blues leveller; Moorhouse pouncing from close range after Simon Kelly had headed Cooper's corner into the danger area.

And still that wasn't the final word on the opening 45 minutes, with Cliftonville restoring their advantage when Martin Donnelly's left-wing cross was seized upon by namesake Jay to give Breslin's boys a 3-2 lead at the break - one that was surrendered four minutes after the re-start when Singleton became the latest beneficiary of the hosts' inability to defend a corner.

Gray headed Glenavon in front - this time from a free-kick - before Cliftonville's second-half no-show was punished further when, following a corner delivery, a failure to clear their lines saw Tomas Cosgrove's high challenge on Mark Sykes result in a penalty which McGrory stepped up to convert and book the Lurgan side's place in Friday's duel.

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