Cliftonville esclipse Glentoran
Glentoran 0 Cliftonville 3: An under-strength Cliftonville side proved too strong for Glentoran as they eased into the semi finals of the County Antrim Shield. Two second-half goals by Stephen Garrett on the hour killed off the home side's challenge and confirmed the league champions will be the team to beat once again this season.
Paddy McNally, on loan from Celtic, scored his first Cliftonville goal right at the end of the first half while the closest Glentoran came was a header from Johnny Addis which hit the crossbar.
Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin fielded only three players from the team that beat the Glens 4-1 in the Premier League game 10 days ago, Conor Devlin, Jamie McGovern and Chris Curran the survivors. But with Ronan Scannell, George McMullan, Martin Donnelly and Liam Boyce on the bench there was plenty of back-up experience if required.
In contrast, Ryan O'Neill, David Howland and David Scullion were the only absentees from the Glentoran line-up that day with Kevin Bradley coming in at right back and Jordan Stewart the only other player not involved in Glentoran's scoreless draw with Ballymena on Saturday.
Mark Miskimmin was left on the bench, so Aaron Boyd was given a lone striker role, but he consistently caused the Cliftonville defence problems throughout an even first half. It was Boyd's 10th minute effort which gave Devlin his first action of the match, a comfortable save from a poorly directed header.
Cliftonville's first opportunity probably came as much as a surprise to Martin Murray as it did to the Glentoran defence. The Reds striker appeared to be offside but the referee's assistant waved play on and it needed a finger-tip save by Elliott Morris to keep the scoresheet blank.
Two minutes later, Diarmuid O'Carroll, put through by Chris Curran, had a shot blocked by Marcus Kane as the visitors backed up their manager's pre-match assertion that he would pick a team good enough to win the match.
Glentoran then enjoyed their best period of the half and again it was Boyd to the fore. He sent Jim O'Hanlon clear on the left and by the time his cross came in, Boyd was on the end of it only to find it just high for a clean connection. The Glens forward then had an even better opportunity but his first touch let him down and McNally made the clearance.
Before half time, after another Boyd shot was blocked, Richard Clarke hooked badly wide and on the stroke of half-time the Glens paid for their wastefulness as Cliftonville took the lead. Curran's right wing corner was met by McNally and the big defender, playing only his second game for the Reds, powered home a bullet header which gave Morris no chance.
Cliftonville had to make a substitution just before the goal when Ciaran Doherty hobbled off but with Boyce sent on as a replacement, it hardly weakened the league champions' line-up.
Sure enough, after an early burst of pressure from Glentoran after the break, when O'Hanlon went closest – his header crowded out by the Cliftonville defence – two goals in 90 seconds settled the game as a contest.
Boyce, in midfield as a direct replacement for Doherty, played a superb through ball for Garrett whose delicate touch poked the ball under the on-rushing Morris and over the line.
It was Garrett at the double at the end of Cliftonville's next attack. When the ball came in from the right, Murray's overhead kick found Garrett at the back post and his first time shot crashed in off the underside of the crossbar.
Eddie Patterson's response was to send on Miskimmin for Clarke but it was a defender who came closest to pulling one back for the Glens. From Jordan Stewart's right wing corner, Addis' powerful header thumped against the crossbar, this time away from the goal.
The bonus of a three-goal lead allowed manager Breslin to ease George McMullan back into the fray, for his first taste of action since being injured on the opening day of the season. It proved the perfect re-introduction as Cliftonville saw out the final 13 minutes without a scare.
Indeed it was the Reds who came closest to extending their lead when substitute Johnny McMurray cut in from the right and his powerful shot was well saved at his near post by Morris. There was still time for Murray to put the ball in the net but his his forward run was just too early and the linesman's flag ruled it out for offside. A second four-goal beating for the Glens, however, would have been cruel on the night.
Glentoran: Morris; Bradley, Magee, Addis, Kane (McGuigan 82 mins); Callacher; Stewart (Hughes 70 mins), Clarke (Miskimmin 64 mins), McAlorum, O'Hanlon; Boyd
Cliftonville: Devlin; Cosgrove (McMullan 77 mins), McNally, McGovern, Seydak; Curran (McMurray 68 mins), Johnston, Doherty (Boyce 41 mins), Garrett; O'Carroll, Murray
Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey).