The brawl of shame as ugly clash casts shadow over Cliftonville's win over Glentoran
Cliftonville manager Gerard Lyttle blasted referee Raymond Crangle over a decision that could have cost his club £160,000.
The Reds beat Glentoran 3-2 in last night's Europa League play-off final, but had to play the second-half without goalkeeper Conor Devlin, who was sent off along with Glentoran's Chris Lavery following a disgraceful brawl as the teams left the pitch at half-time with the score 2-1 to the Glens.
Every player on the pitch became involved in the ugly melee, which was sparked when Cliftonville defender Jaimie McGovern clashed with Glentoran striker Curtis Allen. Staff and substitutes became involved too, but only Devlin and Lavery received their marching orders.
Fortunately the Reds had back-up goalkeeper Peter Burke on the bench and Glens boss Alan Kernaghan claimed that his team suffered more from the dismissals.
Lyttle said: "Our plans were thrown into chaos when the referee appeared to issue a red card to Conor Devlin at half time. I don't know how he worked that out because there could have been three or four players sent off from each team because everyone was involved."
Kernaghan said: “The game was there for us to have, but decisions and indiscipline cost us.
“I think the half-time incident hurt us more than Cliftonville. We just couldn’t get going after that.”
The Glens actually ended up playing the final 40 minutes with only nine men after Barry Holland was dismissed five minutes into the second half after bringing down Stephen Garrett inside the box, but they did get at least a temporary reprieve when Jay Donnelly — who had earlier put the Reds in front before Curtis Allen and Jay Magee replied for the Glens — missed the penalty.
The tension that surrounded the Irish League’s first ever European play-off undoubtedly played a part in the occasion.
Lyttle admitted that it had got through to the players and he was relieved to have got the job done. The club can now also look forward to receiving £160,000 of a European cash windfall.
“It’s a massive result for this football club. There was a huge amount of pressure on the players because the financial benefits were huge,” said Lyttle, who only took over from Tommy Breslin in October.
“My remit, when I took the job, was to lead the club into Europe. Thankfully, we achieved that, but I wouldn’t want to go through that again.
“There was a massive amount at stake. Everyone wants to play in Europe, but for the club, the financial side of it was also massive. It is good to get over the line,” he said.
“Although we were involved in a little piece of history by winning the first ever Europa League play-off, we would much prefer to have our season over by this stage with European qualification already in the bag.”