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Kearney proud of his boys as they march closer to Europe

Coleraine 2 Cliftonville 0

By Paul Burrows

Coleraine took a giant stride towards European qualification as Darren McCauley's double saw off Cliftonville at The Showgrounds.

The winger netted two well-taken second half goals to earn the victory that extends the Bannsiders' lead over the Reds to five points - with third place in the Premiership enough to book Oran Kearney's men a passport to the Europa League.

The Irish Cup finalists were certainly made to battle for their success, however, with Cliftonville enjoying the better of the play in the opening 45 minutes before McCauley took centre stage to help the hosts maintain an unbeaten streak that stretches all the way back to Boxing Day.

"I half expected we might still be stuck in the emotion of last week's Irish Cup win over Glenavon," said Kearney.

"But we got our act together in the second half and worked hard to secure a vital victory.

"Cliftonville edged it in the first half and, if Kym Nelson's free-kick had gone in instead of hitting the crossbar, the game could have been very different.

"I have to give so much credit to the players for their response after half-time. It was much more like us."

The opening goal came six minutes after the turnaround when Ciaron Harkin's delivery was only partially cleared by Jaimie McGovern and McCauley lashed in an unstoppable drive from the edge of the area.

Jay Donnelly should have levelled matters only to skew high and wide with the goal at his mercy while, at the other end, Cliftonville keeper Jason Mooney made a fantastic block to keep Eoin Bradley at bay.

He was unable to stop McCauley putting the seal on things shortly afterwards, however, as he ghosted in behind the visiting defence to seize upon Adam Mullan's perfectly timed assist to slam home.

Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle - whose side now look destined for the Europa League play-offs once again - was at a loss to explain the Reds' drop off in performance after the opening 45 minutes.

"We were a completely different team," he said.

"We didn't show up, didn't match Coleraine and failed to get a tackle in.

"First half, we were so good but the boys let themselves down after the break and that was not acceptable.

"Next week, we're at home to Crusaders and they will be hard to handle too.

"They will want to bounce back after losing to the Blues and we are in the firing line."

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