NIFL Premiership

Glentoran 1–2 Cliftonville 

CLIFTONVILLE fell short in their dreams of lifting the Gibson Cup despite ending the season with a 2-1 victory over Glentoran at The Oval on Saturday evening. 

Former Glens’ midfielder Cricky Gallagher fired the Reds in front after the quarter-hour mark and it temporarily put the Solitude side at the summit until goals from Ben Hall and Chris McKee at Windsor Park ensured that Linfield were on course for their 56th title triumph. 

A Ryan Curran goal midway through the second half would secure the victory for Paddy McLaughlin’s side, despite Seanan Clucas heading home a consolation goal for the hosts. 

The Reds boss was adamant he can’t fault his players for falling short of winning the Gibson Cup and insists he is proud of their efforts. 

“We knew what was at stake and we knew the possibilities of winning the league was here,” acknowledged McLaughlin. 

“We knew we had to go for the game and no matter what team Glentoran put on the pitch. It was always going to be tough because of the squad that they have. We’d nothing to lose and everything to gain. We went for the win and got that, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for us elsewhere. 

“We can’t fault the players; they’ve done everything over the course of the season, and they’ve emptied their hearts and souls onto the pitch on every occasion that we’ve asked of them and every match that we’ve played. 

“It was our 50th game today and don’t think there were too many that we were disappointed in. We’ve been so superb throughout the season and we’ve come within a point of winning the championship and a point from Linfield. 

“It’s an incredible achievement from our team and our club from where we’re at and the status that we have and everything else. I’m so proud of the players and so proud to be part of the club. It’s important know that we try to build on it for next year and beyond.”

Cliftonville players salute the fans after their win at The Oval

Cliftonville players salute the fans after their win at The Oval

McLaughlin named the same starting team that began their 3-3 North Belfast derby draw with Crusaders seven days ago for their biggest game of the campaign.

The Glens had the first meaningful opening at the Oval as Bobby Burns sent in a delightful cross towards Rory Donnelly that Colin Coates met, and Levi Ives completed the clearance. 

But it was Cliftonville who hit the front on 16 minutes as Jamie McDonagh’s attempted cross was half-cleared by Joe Crowe and Cricky Gallagher let fly with a low attempt that bounced over Aaron McCarey and into the net to make it 1-0 and send the Reds to summit with Linfield still being held at home to Coleraine. 

Midway through the half a mistake from Hrvoje Plum allowed Joe Gormley to charge towards the Glens goal and he picked out Ronan Doherty on the overlap, the midfielder’s shot was parried by McCarey with Dillon Powers clearing Gormley’s follow-up off the line. 

Gormley had another opportunity after Rory Hale squared to him, but he dragged a low effort across the face of goal and wide. 

The visitors were comfortable and Ronan Doherty continued to advance forward. His latest effort was dinked over by McCarey, though the former Reds’ ’keeper easily claimed. 

Just before the break, Rory Donnelly had shot from the edge of the box that forced Luke McNicholas into action for the first time. The on-loan Sligo ’keeper gathered at the break Gallagher’s goal was the difference. 

Linfield’s two goals before the break at Windsor Park ensured that the title pendulum had swung firmly into their favour as the second half kicked off at the Oval. 

Glentoran almost made a perfect start to the second half with a Michael O’Connor effort that curled past the post. 

At the other end, Jamie McDonagh curled a free-kick high over the Glens wall and towards the top corner, but Aaron McCarey pushed it away from danger. Rory Hale then threaded the ball wide to Joe Gormley- though he shot high over the bar. 

Cliftonville looked to have settled the issue on 67 minutes when Ryan Curran got on the end of Joe Crowe’s clearance, burst forward and slotted beneath McCarey to make it 2-0. 

Cricky Gallagher opened the scoring for The Reds

Cricky Gallagher opened the scoring for The Reds

A flurry of substitutions followed for both sides as the game entered a bit of a lull period that ended when Luke McNicholas was forced to backtrack and tip over a Seanan Clucas dipping cross. 

The resulting corner from Bobby Burns was delivered on top of Clucas and he nodded home from six yards to give the hosts a lifeline. 

Luke McNicholas had to deny Ben Cushnie moments later, but Cliftonville saw the game out to finish the season on a high and they took the accolades of the noisy Red-Army who stayed behind to applaud their heroes after the final whistle. 

GLENTORAN: McCarey, Burns, McCartan (Jenkins 68’), R Donnelly, McClean, O’Connor (Cushnie 61’), Crowe, Powers (Bigirimana 78’), Plum (Marshall 61’), Wightman (Clucas 68’), Cole. 

CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas, McDonagh, Addis (Harney 81’), Coates, Turner, Ives, Gallagher (Donnelly 81’), Doherty (C Curran 71’), Hale (Kearns 61’), R Curran, Gormley (O’Neill 72’). 

REFEREE: Raymond Crangle