Knockbreda edge out Cliftonville Olympic in Steel & Sons Cup
Cliftonville Olympic 0 Knockbreda 1
Knockbreda manager Hugh Sinclair is eager his side make it third time lucky in the Steel & Sons Cup after booking their place in the quarter-final with a last-gasp victory over Cliftonville Olympic at Solitude on Saturday.
David Johnston’s header in the last minute of extra time was the only goal scored in a tight and engaging contest between two hard-working sides who rarely gave the ball away cheaply.
There was little to separate the two sides, but the Belfast Telegraph Two side’s class showed more in the second half and beyond to earn the victory, and although they won’t be booking their Christmas morning off just yet, thoughts of a place in the final can’t be too far off now.
Firstly, though, they will need to negotiate their way past the quarter-final — and having fallen at this hurdle in the past two seasons, there is sure to be an even greater determination to make it through this time.
Sinclair said: “This is our third season in a row in the quarter-finals, so we really do want to make it into the semis this time. It is important to us because it is a prestigious tournament.
“Going out in the quarter-finals is something we have had to deal with in the past couple of seasons, but in the end, it didn’t affect us as negatively as it could have done, because we went on to win the league.
“This season is all about the players improving, and getting as high up the table as we can. We didn’t play particularly well today, and in fairness, Cliftonville didn’t let us for a large part of the first half. It was nip and tuck, but thankfully we got the result.”
The home side did begin the brighter of the two sides, and few more so than the electric Ross Lavery, who charged down the wing unchallenged in the 15th minute, before clipping the bar with a cross from a tight angle, but no-one was there to stick away the rebound.
Shortly after this, Lavery swivelled to strike a lethal volley from 20 yards, but it was confidently grasped by Brian Neeson; then Johnny McMurray threaded Tiarnan McNicholl through, but the striker delayed his shot a fraction too long, and it soared high and wide.
It wasn’t until the 26th minute that the visitors had their first serious attempt on goal, and although Colum Curtis got plenty of power on his long range effort, it missed the mark by inches.
The ball was launched straight up the other end, and Lavery beat Thomas Plant to the ball and broke clear with only the keeper to beat. Seemingly all he had to do was slot to Neeson’s left, which he did, but somehow also missed the intended target.
Knockbreda had their opportunity to break the deadlock from a set-piece with half an hour gone, and Andrew Dickson’s free kick did appear to be travelling goalwards, but it took a deflection of a rising Cliftonville defender.
If the buoyant Championship outfit had been pre-match favourites, the hosts’ impressive first half display had lengthened the odds of an away win.
But Knockbreda came out just as determined as their opponents, and this determination almost spilled over early in the second half, as referee Peter McGrath did well to keep a lid on a potential melee.
Instead, Sinclair’s side knuckled down, and during a wave of consistent pressure, they could consider themselves unlucky not to have found the net.
In the 68th minute, a rasping shot from Michael Hynes took a deflection off John Donnelly, but Ryan Brown was alert, diving to push it past the left post. Immediately after this, Brown saved well again, getting down to meet a clean, low strike from Colum Curtis. The Cliftonville keeper then kept out a well-hit Curtis Black attempt.
There were glimpses of a possible late winner, with Johnny McMurray hitting the side-netting for Cliftonville, and Knockbreda’s Black knocking the ball narrowly past the goal with the last chance of normal time.
Knockbreda took their second half dominance into extra time, but it wasn’t until the very last minute that Johnston rose from a Young corner to head home the decisive goal.
Cliftonville’s reserve team boss Michael Press will never know if they could have won the game on penalties, but he remained positive when reflecting on what he’d seen.
“I’m immensely proud of my boys,” he stated. “Out of a 16-man squad, 12 of them are youth team, and I thought they were outstanding today. Knockbreda are a team sitting fourth in the Championship, and for us to run them so close was a really super effort.”
Ryan Brown: Had a great game, kept his side in it despite Knockbreda’s second half dominance. 8
Thomas Plant: Kept things tight at the back. 7
Ryan McCloskey: Promising attacking flair down the left. 8
John Donnelly: Looked composed when in possession. 8
Gerard Reynolds: Played his part in taking the game to extra time. 7
Ryan Arthur: Played well. 7
Jay Donnelly: A reliable showing the centre of the park. 7
Conal McGrandles: Kept calm even when his team were up against it. 7
Tiarnan McNicholl: Good positioning, but finishing could have been sharper. 7
Johnny McMurray: Used his height advantage well. 7
Ross Lavery: Cliftonville’s biggest attacking threat. 7
Anto Burns: for McNicholl, 76
Conor Doran: for Jo Donnelly, 73
Anthony O’Hanlon for Lavery, 112
Brian Neeson: A Solid and consistent performance. 8
Matty Johnson: Always fancied in a 50-50. 7
Connor Corry: Solid in defence. 8
David Johnston: Scored a fantastic header to win the match. 8
Matt McManus: Put in a decent shift at the back. 7
Michael Hynes: Incisive passing made him a real threat. 8
Colum Curtis: Strong and steady, though sometimes tried to do too much. 7
Eddie Williamson: A steadying influence when defending. 8
Miguel Chines: A presence, though impact on the game was kept to a minimum.7
Andrew Dickson: Showed a neat first touch. 7
Curtis Black: Pace often left defenders for dead. 8
Paul Young: for Eddie Williamson, 45
Paddy Donnelly: for Dickson, 68
Mark Lindsay: for Curtis, 120
MAN OF THE MATCH: David Johnston|(Knockbreda). Helped his side keep a clean sheet, and scored the winner.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: David Johnston’s late header deep into extra time was not only decisive, but also a well-taken finish, that saw his side through to the next round.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Cliftonville goalkeeper Ryan Brown’s athletic stop from Michael Hynes’ deflected shot was a particularly impressive save.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: This was a game with a high standards all over the pitch, and no significant errors were made.
Belfast Telegraph Digital