Tempers flare as Cliftonville scoop £160k windfall after Glentoran scrap
David McDaid last night hit the goal that earned Cliftonville a £160,000 financial bonanza on a night of high drama and tension at Solitude.
The substitute bagged the winner as the Reds beat Glentoran 3-2 in the first ever Europa League play-off final to secure the huge European windfall.
It was a game that had everything... five goals, near misses, three red cards, two penalties - one missed, one scored - and a half-time brawl that involved every player on the pitch, as well as the entourage from both dug-outs.
With the Glens leading 2-1 at the end of a nerve-jangling first-half, after Curtis Allen and Jay Magee scored following Jay Donnelly's opener for the Reds, Allen clashed with Cliftonville defender Jaimie McGovern in the centre of the pitch as the teams left for the interval.
As more players waded in - including the substitutes - officials and stewards tried to break up the melee. Reds goalkeeper Conor Devlin and Glens winger Chris Lavery became involved and when things settled down they were dismissed in the tunnel by referee Raymond Crangle and didn't come back out for the second-half.
In fact, it only became clear that Devlin had been shown a red card when the Reds' substitute goalkeeper Peter Burke spent the half-time break going through an intense warm-up.
And the temperature in the game stayed at boiling point when the action resumed.
The second-half was only five minutes old when the Glens were reduced to nine men after defender Barry Holland was red carded when he brought down Stephen Garrett inside the box, with Elliott Morris saving Donnelly's penalty.
Incredibly, the Reds were awarded a second penalty on 61 minutes and this time James Knowles slotted it home.
The 10 men clinched victory 10 minutes from time when McDaid fired home from distance.
Before tensions rose, the Reds forged ahead on 11 minutes. Knowles, who was playing in an unfamiliar right-back role, whipped over an inviting corner kick from the left that was flicked against the crossbar by Donnelly and the striker was first to react, climbing above everyone to head home.
Morris had a lucky escape seconds later when Devlin's monster kick-out eluded everyone and after taking a wicked bounce, the ball flashed a yard wide with the Glens keeper seemingly stranded.
The Glens levelled on their first attack after 16 minutes. Danny McKee was chopped down by a clumsy challenge from Fra Brennan 25 yards out, and Allen stepped up and smashed an unstoppable drive into the top corner, leaving Devlin totally helpless.
And it got even better for the east-Belfast side when Magee struck on 28 minutes.
Lavery sent in the most delicious delivery from a free-kick and the big centre-back rose above everyone to power home a brilliant header in spite of a brave effort from Reds skipper George McMullan to clear.
With the clock ticking down towards the break, the Reds then had loud appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Crangle - a late replacement for Arnold Hunter, who was out with a chest infection - when another Devlin clearance appeared to strike the hand of Magee. The Belfast official wasn't impressed.
The game exploded for all the wrong reasons on the sound of Crangle's half-time whistle. It began with Allen tangling with McGovern in the centre of the pitch and it was only when the teams emerged after the break that everything became clear, with Glentoran missing Lavery while Devlin also failed to return with Burke replacing the ineffective Murray.
The drama was far from over as the Glens were down to nine men after Daniel Hughes' pass sent Stephen Garrett clear and just as he was about to pull the trigger, Holland came in with a mistimed challenge, leaving Crangle no option but to point to the spot and pull out his red card once again.
Donnelly blasted his spot-kick straight at Morris, who clawed the ball to safety in the aftermath.
A second Reds penalty came on 61 minutes. This time, Knowles' cross came off the hand of Allen and again Crangle was perfectly placed. Knowles made no mistake from the spot.
Morris then produced a wonder save to prevent Donnelly from shooting the Reds in front, but he had no chance with McDaid's effort 10 minutes from time.
The former Derry City man tried his luck from distance and was mobbed by team-mates when his shot fizzed home.