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Full Time

Reds' numbers come up after Gormley strikes gold at Solitude

Cliftonville 3 Glentoran 2

By Conor McLaughlin

Joe Gormley's big gamble paid off as Cliftonville hit the Euro jackpot on Saturday.

The striker's dramatic late goal sealed an absorbing Europa League play-off final victory over a Glentoran side that had threatened a repeat of their sensational midweek comeback against Linfield.

After Robbie McDaid and Curtis Allen had netted to cancel out Rory Donnelly's double, Gormley's 34th goal of the season sparked manic celebrations among home fans - who had spent the previous few days fearing their star striker might not even be in the country for the game.

That's because Gormley had been booked in for a five-day break in Las Vegas, which he scrapped as soon as Cliftonville overcame Ballymena United in Wednesday's play-off semi-final.

Solitude might not match the strip for glitz and glamour but, in terms of sheer entertainment, the north Belfast venue dished up a feast to compete with the very best sin city has to offer.

The weekend's contest boasted every element necessary for raw drama with goals, fightbacks, late twists and a large dollop of that most mandatory of ingredients - injustice.

Glentoran were aggrieved that Cliftonville's first goal was not disallowed by referee Keith Kennedy after Donnelly's left hand made a key contribution to the striker setting himself up to blast beyond Elliott Morris.

Soon later, the Lisburn official was on the receiving end of home fury when Gormley thought he had doubled the Reds' lead. Seizing on a deflected Jay Donnelly drive, he touched the ball into the bottom corner only for the referee to rule that he had been offside.

Assistant ref Gareth Eakin duly raised his flag some considerable time after the ball had hit the net, with television replays later indicating that the final touch through to Gormley had come from a Glentoran boot.

Though the visitors had started sharply enough, their influence waned as the first-half wore on. Things might have been different had Allen been able to make the most of a miscued Garry Breen backpass just 10 minutes before Donnelly (left) made the breakthrough at the other end.

The same player made it 2-0 when he converted from close range just past the hour and Cliftonville seemed to be in cruise control.

There seemed no threat of a Glentoran revival and, for all the hype about the occasion, the match had looked set to peter out into a typical end-of-season affair.

That was until McDaid made the most of some space inside the box to reduce the arrears and suddenly the Glens' tails were up.

Just as memories of their stirring comeback against Linfield had inspired Glentoran, so too did they seem to be spooking the Reds and it wasn't long before parity was restored - but only after another moment of controversy.

Breen's barge on McDaid as the striker chased down a lost cause earned the east Belfast men a penalty and left referee Kennedy with a choice to make regarding Breen's further participation.

Though the visiting bench were demanding a red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, the man in the middle opted only to flash yellow, ensuring Cliftonville retained their full complement for the battle that would ensue after Allen had levelled from the spot.

With just eight minutes left on the clock, a game that the Reds had looked to have in the bag was suddenly on course for 30 energy-sapping minutes of extra-time. But there was one final intervention to come.

Cliftonville - whose intensity had notably dropped since Donnelly and Gormley were denied by point-blank saves from Morris just after going 2-0 up - gave it one final push to rescue their European dream.

Levi Ives' cross from deep took an awkward bounce beyond Ross Redman but the Glens defender reacted well to block Donnelly's shot at the back post. Cliftonville's two-goal hero didn't give up, though, and recycled a delivery that, in eluding the in-rushing Chris Curran, fell perfectly for Gormley, who took a touch to set himself before lashing home.

He may not be going to Vegas, but the 28-year-old ensured that he and his team-mates will need to dust their passports off sooner rather than later.

Cliftonville: Neeson, Ives, Breen, Harney, Curran, Bagnall, Gormley, J Donnelly, Cosgrove, McDonald (Garrett, 59 mins), R Donnelly. Unused subs: McGovern, Dunne, Lavery, Grimes.

GLENTORAN: Morris, Garrett, Addis, Kane, Gordon (Kelly, 72 mins), Redman, Allen, McGuigan (McMahon, 61 mins), Davidson (O'Hanlon, 72 mins), McDaid, Kerr. Unused subs: Ferrin, O'Neill

Man of match: Rory Donnelly

Match rating: 8/10

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)

Belfast Telegraph

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