NIFL League Cup, quarter-final (AET) 

Portadown 1–2 Cliftonville 

SUBSTITUTE Daniel Kearns struck in extra-time to ensure that Cliftonville made it to the semi-final of the Bet McLean League Cup with a 2-1 comeback win over Portadown at Shamrock Park on Tuesday evening. 

The league leaders had fallen behind to Lee Bonis’ strike just after half-time, but Ronan Doherty stabbed home the leveller with under a quarter of an hour remaining to force an additional 30 minutes. 

Kearns would fire home midway through the first period to wrap up a hard-earned win for Paddy McLaughlin’s men.

McLaughlin was happy to see his side reach the last four and wasn’t expecting a similar ride to their 4-0 victory seven days earlier. 

“We spoke about it in the changing room before the game, we knew that very rarely when two sides play against each other in the space of a week that it’ll be the exact same game,” said McLaughlin

“We knew it wasn’t going to be like that, we knew that they were home and off the back of a good result at the weekend. They’d their own support behind them and we knew it was going to be a totally different game and it proved to be the case. 

“You’ve got to give all the credit in the world to Portadown. From Saturday they’ve carried their organisation and their form through to tonight, so we give them all the credit in the world and fair play to our boys. 

“They stuck at it to come from behind in a tough game. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty to watch at times because there were more physical battles on the pitch more than free flowing football. To overcome that and get a result - we’re delighted.”

There was one enforced change to the starting line-up for McLaughlin’s men with Chris Gallagher dropping out through injury and Levi Ives returning to the starting 11 after a few weeks lay-off. 

Portadown were first to threaten through a Stephen Teggart shot that was curled wide and moments later, Declan Dunne almost spilled a low Oisin Conaty shot but gathered to save his blushes. 

The visitors carved their first opening through Jamie McDonagh, but the winger couldn’t convert from Joe Gormley’s pass as Jethren Barr held on. Gormley himself went close with an effort that whistled across the face of goal and wide. 

Midway through the half, Conaty shot straight down the throat of Dunne and then fed Lee Bonis, but the striker dragged wide from a promising opening. 

On the half-hour mark, a pinpoint Ronan Doherty cross was met by the head of Ryan Curran and Barr claimed it from underneath the crossbar. 

The Ports goalkeeper wasn’t to be fooled by Jamie McDonagh’s dink and before the break, Aaron Donnelly’s shot was too high to trouble the youngster as the sides went in at the break with the game goalless and in need of some spark. 

The deadlock was broken two minutes after the restart and fell to the hosts. A long pass upfield by Barr was gathered by Adam Salley whose shot was too hot to handle for Declan Dunne and Lee Bonis followed up and fired home to give the Ports the lead. 

Cliftonville tried to respond instantly through Ronan Doherty who scooped the ball over the bar and then Jamie McDonagh, but Barr pounced upon his low near-post effort. 

The Ports almost doubled their lead from a Nathan Kerr cross that Adam Salley glanced wide of the target. 

Kerr curled a shot that Declan Dunne held onto and Oisin Conaty dragged a shot across the face of goal as Matthew Tipton’s side tried to find the crucial second. 

With a quarter of an hour remaining, Cliftonville were almost back on terms through a Jamie McDonagh cross that was headed off the bar by Gormley. 

But two minutes later the Solitude side restored parity as Daniel Kearns poked the ball to Ronan Doherty who stabbed the ball goalwards and past Jethren Barr to make it 1-1. 

Doherty scooped another opportunity wide and Ryan Curran swivelled and shot inches past the post as the visitors sought a winner. 

Both sides would go close before the conclusion: Sammy McLeod drove forward and curled a shot wide of the post, while Joe Gormley could have won it with the final opportunity as he attempted the dink the ball across the area, only for Barr to cut the danger out and ensure that it was still a stalemate after 90 minutes and extra-time would be required. 

The winning goal arrived seven minutes into the first period as Ryan Curran cut inside and slid the ball across to Daniel Kearns to fire home for his second of the season to make it 2-1. 

In truth, Portadown failed to trouble Declan Dunne in both periods with George Tipton floating in a cross that the ’keeper gathered with ease. 

Cliftonville were able to see out the remaining minutes to secure their place in the last four draw on Saturday evening. 

PORTADOWN: Barr, Hall, Finnegan, Tipton (McCallum 103), Salley (Ruddy 62), Bonis, Conaty (Lavery 83), Kerr, S Teggart (Warde 103), McLeod, Jordan. 

CLIFTONVILLE: Dunne, Lowe, Addis, Turner, Ives (Kearns 60), Donnelly, Doherty, C Curran (Foster 114), R Curran, McDonagh (Coates 106), Gormley. 

REFEREE: Tim Marshall