COLERAINE’S chances of qualifying for Europe for a third successive year were ended as Cliftonville ran out 5-3 winners at Solitude…
A hat-trick from James McLaughlin looked like being enough to secure a spot in Saturday’s final, but Cliftonville were awarded a dubious late penalty which Ryan Curran converted to send the game into extra-time. The Reds hit the front through Levi Ives’ low effort, with Conor McMenamin rounding Chris Johns and adding a fifth with five minutes remaining.
The first opportunity of the match arrived on seven minutes as Joe Gormley turned and found Rory Donnelly at the edge of the box. The former Swansea City player looked up and tried to lob Johns from distance, but his effort went inches wide of the far post. On nine minutes the deadlock was broken as a fantastic delivery from Jamie Glackin found the head of McLaughlin and the striker nodded past Richard Brush with the help of the crossbar.
That lead was almost doubled on 27 minutes as Jamie McGonigle received the ball, skipped past two challenges, but his well driven volley was straight at Brush. However, just a minute later, the advantage was stretched even further as Adam Mullan’s deep cross was once again met by the head of McLaughlin who expertly found the bottom corner. The Reds responded as Donnelly headed over from Ives’ cross, but they reduced the arrears on 34 minutes as a poor clearance from Johns was closed down by Ryan Curran and Joe Gormley profited from close range.
Paddy McLaughlin’s side started the second-half on the ascendancy and had three chances within the first ten minutes to find an equaliser. The first arrived on 48 minutes when Donnelly blazed over the bar from Gormley’s lay-off, before Gormley failed to hit the target from 18 yards, with McMenamin also being guilty of missing from close range as he steered wide.
It was backs against the wall for the Stripes as Graham Crown was alert to block Donnelly’s goal bound effort, and from the resulting corner, Jaimie Harney’s header looked certain to the find the net, but Ben Doherty was there to clear the ball off the line. Against the run of play, Rodney McAree’s troops grabbed a third on 72 minutes as a deep cross found McLaughin who headed the ball up in the air and hit a superb overhead kick for his hat-trick. Two minutes later, it was almost 4-1 as McLaughlin had an effort blocked off the line, with Josh Carson’s rebound also being hooked clear by Ives.
Amazingly, the two goal cushion didn’t last long as an alert Gormley released McMenamin inside the area and the attacker steered the ball into the bottom corner beyond the reach of Johns to narrow the gap once again. Just when it looked like Coleraine had done enough to reach the final, referee Steven Gregg pointed to the spot as Carson was adjudged to have fouled Ryan Curran inside the area. After several minutes of protestations, the same player stepped up and drilled a penalty low into the bottom corner.
The extra-time period was barely two minutes old when Cliftonville hit the front for the very first time as the lively Ives picked up possession 20 yards from goal and his daisy cutter found the bottom corner. The game should have been put to bed on 105 minutes as a clearance found Gormley unmarked but the league’s top scorer could only hit straight at Johns from five yards out.
As Coleraine pushed forward in a bid to send the game into spot kicks, the Reds scored a decisive fifth as Gormley released the run of McMenamin who was through on goal and the ex-Warrenpoint Town man coolly rounded Johns and slotted into an empty net.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, Ives, Breen, Harney, Grace (Bagnall ’21 mins), C. Curran, R. Curran, R. Donnelly, A. Harkin, Gormley, McMenamin (Gorman ‘111 mins).
Subs Not Used: Neeson (GK), McGovern, Garrett, Maguire, Rocks.
COLERAINE: Johns, Mullan, Douglas, McLaughlin (Bradley ’76 mins), Carson, Crown, O’Donnell, McGonigle (Parkhill ’68 mins), Canning, Doherty, Glackin (Shiels ’83 mins).
Subs Not Used: Doherty (GK), McConaghie, Burke, King.
Referee: Steven Gregg