NIFL Europa Conference League Play-Off Final 

Glentoran 2–0 Cliftonville 

A first-half brace from Junior Uzokwe ensured that Glentoran ran out 2-0 winners over 10-man Cliftonville and took the last European spot in the NIFL Europa Conference League Play-Off final at the Oval on Saturday evening. 

The goals arrived 10 minutes before the break as the striker netted a Panenka penalty from the spot and then followed up after Terry Devlin’s shot was parried by Nathan Gartside. 

Cliftonville offered very little in response and were reduced to 10-men when substitute Donal Rocks lunged in on Devlin and was dismissed within two minutes of his introduction. 

It summed up the Reds' frustrations as they missed out on European football and the financial benefits and caretaker boss Declan O’Hara believes they were cancelled out by the deserving winners. 

“2-0 down and the goals were criminal, but I’m not going to stand here and rip the back out of the players,” O’Hara reflected. 

“They’ve been excellent all season. They’ve had a tough season and a tough last six weeks. Today was a hard one to take. I think our first shot was in the 91st minute and the game was over. 

“In the second half, we asked them to go a bit forward and direct more and they kept playing. Glentoran just cancelled them out and that’s why they won 2-0 and kept a clean sheet.”

In his final game in the hotseat, O’Hara named the same starting 11 that featured in Wednesday evening's 2-1 win over Coleraine at Solitude. 

Glentoran applied the early pressure with Niall McGinn slinging in a cross that Levi Ives hammered behind for a corner. 

Jonny Addis then got a foot to another attempted cross from McGinn, though the corner came to nothing. 

The hosts first opening arrived after 11 minutes, Terry Devlin provided the cross from the left and Conor McMenamin’s near post flick-on was turned away by Nathan Gartside. 

The corner count continued to rise as Luke Turner got a foot in to deny Conor McMenamin the chance to threaten. 

A defensive lapse almost presented Junior with an opportunity on the half hour mark. Jonny Addis headed the ball back towards keeper Gartside who was forced to get a glove to the ball as Junior raced in for the areal battle. 

Glentoran had the opportunity to the break the deadlock with ten minutes to the break after Addis swiped at McMenamin inside the area and referee Ian McNabb pointed to the spot. 

Junior seized responsibility and his cheeky Panenka attempt fooled Gartside and gave his side the advantage. 

The former Derry City striker would double his sides lead at the interval with five minutes to the break. 

Rhys Marshall’s cross was met by Terry Devlin whose effort was initially kept out by Nathan Gartside, but Junior reacted to sweep home the rebound to make it 2-0 at the break and ensure it was a long way back for Cliftonville. 

Cliftonville were perhaps fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men on two occasions at the beginning of the second period as Joe Gormley and Ronan Hale were given the benefit of the doubt for clumsy fouls that the home support were adamant should have saw the duo dismissed. 

Glentoran picked up where they left off and should have extended their lead. Niall McGinn’s free kick dropped onto the head of Luke McCullough, but he glanced wide of the near post. 

 Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe celebrates scoring

Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe celebrates scoring

Terry Devlin then got onto the ball at the by-line and his shot across the face of goal was parried away from the path of Junior by Gartside. 

Having introduced Sean Moore and Colin Coates at the break, Declan O’Hara also brought on David Parkhouse and his last roll of the dice saw Aaron Traynor and Donal Rocks introduced with little over twenty minutes remaining. 

Rocks would last a mere two minutes in proceedings as he was shown a straight red card by Ian McNabb for a reckless lunge on Terry Devlin that epitomised a frustrating evening for the visitors. 

In the end Junior’s first half goals were enough to see the Glens into Europe after missing out last season and for Cliftonville an uncertain summer awaits with a new manager to be appointed in the coming weeks to succeed Paddy McLaughlin. 

GLENTORAN: McCarey, Kane (Crowe 21’), McCullough, Burns (Plum 90’), Marshall, Singleton, Devlin, McMenamin, Wightman (Smyth 90’), McGinn (R Donnelly 71’), Junior (J Donnelly 71’). 

CLIFTONVILLE: Gartside, Lowe, Addis (Coates 46’), Turner, Ives (Traynor 68’), Gallagher, Doherty (Rocks 68’), C Curran (Moore 46’), R Curran (Parkhouse 57’), Ronan Hale, Gormley.