NIFL Premiership, European playoff semi-final

Cliftonville 0–0 Crusaders 

(Cliftonville win 5-4 on penalties) 

CLIFTONVILLE held their nerve when it came to penalties as they saw off North Belfast rivals Crusaders 5-4 in a dramatic shoot-out to reach Saturday’s European playoff final. 

Both sides cancelled each other out over 120 minutes and it went to the lottery with Michael Ruddy seeing his effort bounce off the underside of the bar and out according to the linesman and referee Raymond Crangle. But footage would later show that the ball did cross the line and Crusaders can feel hard done by. 

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin admits he didn’t think the penalty was in from where he was situated but has sympathy with Crusaders. 

“When it happens and whenever you are down there in the dugout you are so far away – it didn’t look in from where we were,” said McLaughlin who didn’t have the benefit of the replay. 

“Obviously the linesman and referee were closer to it, but it happened in a flash. It’s one of those ones that if it goes for you, you are delighted but if it goes against you, I’m sure the Crusaders boys will be fuming. 

“I’m sure the Crusaders boys will be disappointed but it’s hard for the referee to see that happening so quickly.”

Crusaders were the much quicker to settle and should have hit the front when Jamie McGonigle raced through one-on-one and saw his goal-bound shot hooked off the line by Jamie Harney. Paul Heatley then tried his luck with the follow-up and Chris Curran blocked with Ives eventually heading it behind for a corner which came to nothing. 

The visitors continued to threaten with David Cushley touching the ball onto the foot of Ben Kennedy who hooked a superb chance wide of the post. 

Jamie McGonigle then fed Kennedy who cut it back for Paul Heatley and the winger tried an audacious over-head kick that drifted inches wide of the post. 

Daniel Larmour headed wide at the back post from Kennedy’s free-kick and in first-half injury-time, another set-piece from Kennedy was met by the head of Jordan Forsythe, but he powered his effort over the bar.

Jamie Harney was forced to turn behind Ben Kennedy’s cross early in the second half, but Cliftonville came out with a bit more fire in the belly. 

Aaron Donnelly’s corner from the left was headed on by Harney and it fell to Daire O’Connor whose goal-bound header was blocked on the line by Jarlath O’Rourke. 

Just before the hour mark, Ben Kennedy got his free-kick over the wall but not Aaron McCarey who came across and held. 

The best opportunity fell midway through the half as Chris Curran slipped in Daire O’Connor for a one-on-one, but Tuffey denied the tricky winger from breaking the deadlock. 

It was mostly one way traffic in the second period, but Crusaders had two half-chances to steal it in injury time. 

Daniel Larmour crossed from the left and David Cushley glanced a header onto the roof of the net. Paul Heatley then let fly with an angled snapshot which Aaron McCarey was equal to as extra-time would be required. 

Extra-time failed to take off if truth be told with both teams cancelling each other out in the first period. 

Rory Hale and Robbie Weir keep their eyes on the ball

Rory Hale and Robbie Weir keep their eyes on the ball

Crusaders had the first opportunity in the second period when Ben Kennedy picked out Jarlath O’Rourke whose low effort was held by McCarey. 

At the other end, Rory Hale crossed to the back post and Joe Gormley could only glance the header off target. Johnny Tuffey was forced to turn a further Gormley effort behind for a corner as penalties were required. 

Cliftonville were perfect from the spot with Hale, O’Connor, Ryan Curran, Paul O’Neill and Joe Gormley all converting. 

Crusaders replied each time through Kennedy, Cushley, O’Rourke, Larmour and the pressure then fell to Michael Ruddy who was introduced for spot-kicks. 

Ruddy saw his effort cannon back off the underside of the bar and out as Cliftonville celebrated victory but replays then showed that the ball had in fact crossed the line after bouncing down from the bar. 

"Television will show it's two foot over the line," Crusaders’ manager, Stephen Baxter told the BBC after.

"But when people show honesty and integrity I can't say a lot more.

"It's incredibly difficult when you lose a penalty shootout in the manner we have lost it - and when you get to the very last penalty and it goes against you it's a very hard one to take.

"The only thing I will say is that both the referee and linesman have apologised profusely to me and the linesman (on the line) particularly.

"It's more difficult when it's hit at pace for the naked eye to see it because you are looking down on the angle towards the goal from his position.

"I accept his apology around it - the ball was hit so quick, it bounces off it (the ground). He should see it but his honesty is sufficient for me because it could happen to anybody and I believe him."

CLIFTONVILLE: McCarey, Lowe (O’Neill 120), Harney, O’Reilly (Foster 36), Ives, A Donnelly, C Curran (Gormley 82), Bagnall, Hale, O’Connor, McCrudden (R Curran 54). 

CRUSADERS: Tuffey, BJ Burns, Weir, Kennedy, McGonigle (Caddell 73), Cushley, Forsythe (Brown 71), O’Rourke, Thompson (Ruddy 115), Heatley, Larmour. 

REFEREE: Raymond Crangle