Belfast Telegraph

Treble on for Cliftonville

Cliftonville 2 Crusaders 0

By Graham Luney

Some tough tacking on the pitch, some tough talking after the game but, in the end, it was simply tough luck on Crusaders.

Cliftonville are on course for an extraordinary treble – you would have got some odds on that happening at the start of the new season after Linfield had just netted six doubles in seven campaigns.

Tommy Breslin's boys are in party mood. Crusaders couldn't be party-poopers at the Oval in this Irish Cup semi-final but they do feel that referee Mark Courtney torpedoed their hopes of making it to a fourth final in five years.

All the angry words came from the Crues camp after the final whistle. Boss Stephen Baxter was unimpressed with Courtney's decision-making while keeper Sean O'Neill was happy to place on record his frustration with Reds midfielder Ryan Catney who, the Crues number one claimed, rejected a pre-match handshake.

There is history between the two players with O'Neill and Catney being involved in a verbal altercation at Solitude on Boxing Day.

Peace certainly didn't break out before Saturday's game.

"I went to shake his hand but he didn't accept and it infuriated me," said O'Neill.

"He was also saying things to me after the second goal went in that I wasn't happy about."

Baxter also cut a frustrated figure. He felt a "brilliant game of football" was ruined by the man in the middle.

Courtney awarded a penalty to the Reds in the 66th minute after he spotted a tug on Stephen Garrett during a tussle with Paul Leeman and Matthew Snoddy.

Crusaders cried foul and they also felt substitute Diarmuid O'Carroll should have walked for a high challenge on McClean.

Two minutes after George McMullan buried the penalty, Leeman was left scrambling back as Joe Gormley aimed the ball beyond O'Neill.

Baxter said: "We just want courtesy and respect from referees. The penalty kick was a turning point. Let's watch it back and if I'm wrong I'll apologise but I cannot see how it could have been given. At this level of football you must be 100% sure. For me there's a big penalty that he doesn't give with their goalkeeper (Conor Devlin), but the decisions did not go our way.

"We have had a soft penalty given against us and Paul has been caught by a ball over him and he's incredibly disappointed. Outside of that, they didn't create a lot and their manager (Tommy Breslin) said to me they rode their luck a little.

"I thought David Magowan was incredibly good and Paul Heatley could have had four goals but this game is about putting the ball between the two white posts and if you don't do it you lose and we have lost.

"It was a class performance from us but now we will reflect on it. Another European campaign for us to come is incredible though."

No trophies at Seaview then, but Cliftonville may finish the season with three.

The IRN-BRU Cup mission is accomplished, the league title could be wrapped up at home to Linfield on Saturday and now there's the small matter of an Irish Cup final against Glentoran on May 4.

Jubilant boss Breslin must be pinching himself.

"There is that resolve around the team which is crucial," he said.

"It was one of those games that the first goal was going to be important. While I didn't see the penalty incident clearly I would admit that we could have lost Diarmuid (O'Carroll) for his challenge.

"But there was a foul on him beforehand which wasn't given. Young Heatley also got away with one on George McMullan too.

"So things were evened up there but Diarmuid knows he was reckless and he appreciates that, he was just frustrated."

It's expected that Breslin will lose James Knowles to Linfield but there will be no shortage of players hoping to join the Reds in the summer.

Belfast Telegraph


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