McMenamin paves way as classy Reds turn on style
Cliftonville 4 Barry Town Utd 0 (Cliftonville won 4-0 aggregate)
Formidable Cliftonville produced a scintillating performance at Solitude to secure their progress to the next round of the Europa League qualifying stages.
The Reds were simply too good for Barry Town United. They dominated possession, cutting the Welsh open at will.
After last week's 0-0 draw in Cardiff there were understandably a few nerves, but first-half goals from Conor McMenamin and Joe Gormley eased the tension. Conor McDermott and Rory Donnelly put the icing on the cake in the final 10 minutes of the tie.
The 4-0 aggregate victory was enough to secure a tie against Norwegian side Haugesund. The first leg will be played at Solitude next Thursday night, with the Reds set for Scandinavia on July 18.
It's a money-spinning tie for Cliftonville, but this comprehensive victory's real value can't be measured in Euros or pounds. This 4-0 win was a sign of intent from the Reds, who under Paddy McLaughlin look like they could be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Joe Gorman made a nervous start to the game, misplacing a number of passes. But the defender almost turned provider in the 11th minute when he picked out near-namesake Gormley on the right flank with a searching pass.
With Barry Town goalkeeper Mike Lewis preparing for a cross, the cheeky striker tried to lob him from an angle. A back-pedalling Lewis reacted quickly, clawing the goal-bound effort clear.
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Cliftonville enjoyed the bulk of the possession in the opening quarter of the game, but at times they looked vulnerable to the Barry counter-attack with Kayne McClaggon and Jonathan Hood keeping the Reds defence on their toes.
McClaggon tried his luck from 20 yards in the 21st minute, but his effort whistled wide of the goal.
The breakthrough arrived in the 25th minute. Summer recruit Ronan Doherty's right-flank corner found McMenamin, and the man who once scored in the Europa League for Glentoran added to his European tally with a powerful header.
A Barry defender did his best to clear the ball off the line, but the header was just too powerful. It was a thrilling moment that brought Solitude to its feet.
There was another exhilarating moment a minute before the break. Cliftonville captain Chris Curran worked his magic on the right flank, pulling a smart ball back across the front of the box for Gormley.
Gormley made no mistake, smashing a 15-yard effort high into the middle of the net.
Perhaps Lewis should have done better, but the power Gormley generated with his right boot was simply extraordinary.
Cliftonville made a lively start to the second half, coming within a whisker of increasing their lead in the 54th minute when Donnelly unleashed a powerful 20-yard shot across goal.
Lewis, at full stretch, got down low and turned the ball round the post.
Gormley really should have made it 3-0 minutes later, but the striker steered the ball over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.
Ronan Doherty was the next man to go close, in the 73rd minute. After an extended period of pressure, his 20-yard effort inched just past the post.
The third arrived in the 82nd minute. Right-back McDermott scored a wonderful individual strike, winding his way through the Barry defence before slotting the ball across Lewis and into the bottom corner.
It was 4-0 two minutes later. The magnificent Gormley cut in from the left flank, hit the byline and cut the ball back for Donnelly, and the forward steered a shot into the net from inside the area. It was stunning football from Cliftonville. The crowd of 1,946 were elated.
While Barry Town produced an under-par display, take nothing away from Cliftonville. Their eye-catching football suggests this could be a very good season for the men in red.
Cliftonville: Brush; McDermott, Breen, Gorman, Ives; C. Curran, Doherty, Bagnall; McMenamin (85 Wilson), Gormley (85 Harney), Donnelly (85 Maguire)
Subs: Dunne. Harney, Harkin, Forster, Maguire, R. Curran
Barry Town United: Lewis; Morgan, Cooper, Press, Hugh; Hiscock-Greening, Green, Patton (74 Fry); McClaggon, Hood (80 Snaith), Cotterill (65 Compton)
Subs Not Used: Watkins, Abbruzzese, Ratcliffe, Cosslett
Match rating: 7/10
Man of the match: McMenamin
Ref: Fyodor Zammitt (Malta)