Belfast Telegraph

Gormley pounces to end Linfield hopes of salvaging season

Linfield 0 Cliftonville 1

By Alex Mills

Joe Gormley hammered the final nail into the coffin of Linfield's horrible season by grabbing a late winner in last night's dramatic Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final tie at Windsor Park.

Barry Gray's Cliftonville may have been under the cosh for most of the first half, but Gormley rarely fails to deliver on the big stage.

It was a tense affair, just what was expected from two teams chasing the final trophy of the season with their league hopes over.

Linfield created numerous chances as they dominated the opening 45 minutes, but found Reds goalkeeper Brian Neeson in inspirational form.

Just when extra-time looked a probability rather than a possibility, that man Gormley struck.

And how the Red Army celebrated. The last time Cliftonville lifted the famous old trophy was back in 1979 - the class of 2018 are now on course to torpedo that horrible hoodoo. They will now face Loughgall in the semi-finals later this month.

David Healy's Blues had already let their Irish League title and the County Antrim Shield slip through their fingers. This defeat simply summed up their season. They may have celebrated triple glory last campaign but they will finish empty-handed this time.

In fact, they'll now have to rely on the end-of-season play-offs to secure European football.

The Blues' chances suffered a blow before kick-off when talisman striker Andy Waterworth failed a fitness test, but they roared from the traps with Kirk Millar forcing Neeson to flick his header over the crossbar following a great cross from Niall Quinn.

The Reds attempted to hit back, but Garry Breen failed to get full contact on a Conor McDonald free-kick after Mark Stafford had flattened Gormley.

But, urged on by their noisy fans, Linfield opened up the Reds defence again on seven minutes. Set-piece specialist Quinn flighted over another great cross, which was met by Kurtis Byrne, and his flicked header once again forced Neeson into a smart save.

Then, seconds later, the lively Byrne gobbled up a pass from skipper Jamie Mulgrew and, as he bore down on goal, Neeson again stood firm.

Mark Haughey was next to try his luck with a stinging 30-yard drive that the over-worked Neeson was relieved to flip over.

And the chances just kept on coming. Quinn whipped in a corner from the right that was met by the towering Stafford, whose thumping header crashed off the top of the crossbar.

Cliftonville once more rode their luck on 20 minutes. This time it was Millar who supplied the ammunition and it was Byrne who benefited. His downward header was spilled by Neeson, who was fortunate that defender Jamie Harney was perfectly placed to tidy up.

The visitors at least mustered a half-chance at the other end five minutes from the break when Neeson's free-kick was picked up by Gormley, but his scuffed shot posed no problems for rookie keeper Alex Moore.

If the scoring chances were coming thick and fast in the opening 45 minutes, they certainly dried up after half-time.

It was the Reds who almost forged a breakthrough on 63 minutes when Shane Grimes' corner was met by Breen but his header fizzed inches wide.

Chris Curran's cross then looked destined for the head of Rory Donnelly, but Haughey managed to get back.

The Reds had a let-off with 12 minutes left when Haughey's cross was met by Quinn. His header was saved by Neeson, but substitute Stephen Lowry looked a likely scorer only to scuff his shot against the post.

Gormley wasn't so generous on 80 minutes. Substitute Ruairi Harkin sent a pass through the middle and the striker guided a shot into the bottom corner.

Belfast Telegraph

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