Derby delight as Crues show more Steel in reserve to progress to semis
Cliftonville Olympic may lead the way in the NIFL Reserve League table, but it was rivals Crusaders Reserves who came away with a deserved 2-0 triumph from their all-north Belfast Steel & Sons Cup quarter-final at Seaview on Saturday.
The County Antrim FA clearly saw the potential in this derby clash, naming it as their ‘tie of the round,’ but in truth, this turned out to be a rather one-sided affair, with the Crues in full control from start to finish.
For victorious manager Gavin Arthur - who has won every other major honour in the local game aside from the Steel and Sons Cup - the performance was a pleasing statement of intent, which has given both he and his players a genuine hope of achieving glory.
He said: “Now that we are in the last four, then yes, we can win it now. That’s because semi-finals and finals aren’t just matches, they are occasions, and it is all about how you manage them.
“Cliftonville are a good, strong team, but we played against them in a certain way, and it worked. We frustrated them and didn’t let them play in the first half, we were patient and disciplined, and then we played our own game in the second half.
“There wasn’t one stand-out player for us today – the whole team played well, every player. It was a collective. And the good thing is that whatever happens in the semi-final, it will be win-win for us, as these players will learn from the experience of playing in front of a big crowd, which is important at this level.”
There were very few chances in the opening spell of the game, but crucially, Crusaders made one of them count in the 18th minute. Chris Morrow brought the ball down inside the box and laid off to Salou Jallow who smashed the ball into the back of the net.
Arthur’s boys continued a positive attacking period with an over-hit strike above the target from the well-advanced Gary Doherty, moments after the breakthrough.
The biggest frustration for Cliftonville was that they weren’t producing nearly enough clear-cut chances – a fact underlined when Tiarnan McNicholl was unable to the ball under his control from an Andrew Mooney slide-rule pass on the half-hour mark, and the danger was cleared.
If Cliftonville were already beginning to feel like the game was slipping out of their grasp, that sensation was only exaggerated further in the 36th minute, when Matthew Hendry brought down Lloyd Anderson on the edge of the area, and Richard Vauls stepped up to curl a peach of a free kick into the bottom left corner.
The Crues were turning on the style now, and, but for a vital block from Michael Tolan, an acrobatic Jallow attempt would surely have found the net.
Johnny McMurray could have given the visitors something to cheer with a promising individual run into the box, however his final touch gave Graeme McKibbin a straightforward save.
A difficult task for Cliftonville became even more so when referee Shane Andrews showed Andrew Mooney red for an off-the-ball challenge.
Cliftonville’s half-time substitutes Ross Lavery and Gary Donnelly were brought on for McMurray and Mark Hillen, and whether enforced or tactical, the double-move made little change to the increasingly challenging ask facing the away side.
Indeed, when any chances were created, they were largely done so by the team with the two-goal cushion, with a well-struck Podraig McPartland free kick around the wall producing a top save from Gerard Walker, a 30-yard effort from Jamie Peoples dipping just over, and a close-range attempt from Jallow going in a similar direction.
The away side hadn’t given up – it was just that they weren’t clinical enough in the final third, and found McKibbin in alert form, when they did break through. The Crusaders keeper was straight out when Hendry overhit a pass to Lavery, and again when Gerry Thompson did the same to McNicholl.
And, even with five minutes left, when Lavery broke clear, home skipper Adam Wilson delivered a strong last-ditch tackle to maintain the clean sheet.
Olympic boss Michael Press admitted it had been a disappointing outing from his side.
“We didn’t turn up,” he remarked. “We didn’t perform. We lacked heart, we lacked motivation, we didn’t tackle… everything. I mean, this is the quarter-final of the Steel & Sons Cup.
“When it comes down to it, the sending off didn’t really have any bearing on the final result. They had some good experience in their side with likes of McKibbin, Molloy and Morrow, but at the end of the day, there are no excuses for us. The better team won on the day. ”
Crusaders can now look forward to a semi-final against tournament favourites Harland & Wolff Welders, while Albert Foundry take on PSNI in the other semi. Both will take place at Seaview towards the end of November, with full details to be confirmed.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Salou Jallow (Crusaders Reserves). Always looking to make something happen in the final third.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Richard Vauls’ low curling free-kick to put his side two goals ahead in the first half was one to savour.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Gerard Walker’s fantastic save from Podraig McPartland’s goal-bound free kick, early in the second half.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Andrew Mooney will regret his sending off, even if manager Michael Press may have a point about it not affecting the game’s final outcome.
Graeme McKibbin: Showed good awareness. 8
Gary Doherty: A positive showing, got forward well. 8
Podraig McPartland: First to the ball, more often than not. 7
Adam Wilson: Kept things tight at the back. 7
Barry Malloy: A well-organised performance. 7
Chris Morrow: Dominated the midfield impressively. 8
Jamie Peoples: Rarely beaten in an aerial challenge. 7
Lloyd Anderson: Superb control of the ball. 8
Ross Holden: Great endeavour throughout the game: 7
Salou Jallow: Instinctive finishing, could well have scored more. 8
Richard Vauls: Gave a lesson in set-pieces. 8
Nathan Spiers: On for Doherty, 90
Geoff McKinty: Not used
Dale McCreery: Not used
Declan O’Neill: Not used
Craig Gardiner: Not used
Gerard Walker: Kept the score to a minimum. 7
Richard Gowdy: A frustrating afternoon. 6
Patrick McAllister: Had good moments and not so good. 6
Fra Brennan: The most impressive defensive display for Olympic. 7
Conor Doran: Put in a shift. 6
Matthew Hendry: Not afraid to get stuck in. 7
Tiarnan McNicholl: Covered plenty of ground. 7
Michael Tolan: Unable to get a real foot-hold on the game. 6
Johnny McMurray: Would like to have tested the keeper more. 6
Mark Hillen: Could have done with more chances. 6
Andrew Mooney: Made some promising runs, but red card ended his part in the game. 6
Ross Lavery: On for McMurray, 45
Gary Donnelly: On for Hillen, 45
Chris Beggley: On for Doran, 72
Connal Lawlor: Not used
Gerry Thompson: Not used