NIFL Europa Conference League Playoff semi-final 

Cliftonville 2–1 Coleraine 

CLIFTONVILLE held off a Coleraine fightback to book their place in the European playoff final against Glentoran on Saturday with a 2-1 win in Wednesday evening's semi-final against the Bannsiders. 

Strikes from Ryan Curran and Ronan Doherty had the hosts 2-0 to the good at the break before Matthew Shevlin headed home to give Coleraine hope. 

Oran Kearney’s side were unable to hit back and force a fifth 2-2 draw between the sides this season as the Reds held out to book their place in the decider on Saturday evening, much to the delight of interim boss Declan O’Hara who admitted the feeling was one of joy and relief. 

“I think it’s a feeling of both joy and relief,” O’Hara admitted. 

“To go 2-0 up and we were in the game, we knew that Coleraine were going to come at us - they are a good side. At the final whistle, I was delighted for the boys because they put so much work into the game tonight. 

“The last 10 days, we’ve worked a lot on the training ground, and they did what we asked them tonight and that’s all I can ask for. Our energy levels and busyness on and off the ball were different class tonight. 

“I’m delighted for them because we’ve been on a bad run at the minute. Six weeks ago, we were challenging (for the league) and we hit a blip. It was hard to get the boys up and motivated and we knew tonight that we had to get them, we did, and it just proved in the result.”

O’Hara made six changes to the side that featured in their 2-0 defeat to Linfield 10 days previous. 

Amongst those returning to the starting 11 were captain Chris Curran and Levi Ives, who made his first start since picking up a thigh injury against Portadown back in February. 

Cliftonville drew first blood just four minutes into the semi-final clash. Joe Gormley raced onto a through ball down the channel from Ryan Curran and returned the ball to his attacking partner to bend an effort into the bottom corner and make it 1-0. 

Dean Jarvis tried a speculative lob that Nathan Gartside was equal to and on the quarter-hour mark, the Reds’ goalkeeper came out to get a fist on Lee Lynch’s corner. 

It was Cliftonville who would double their lead a few minutes before the midway point in the half. 

Jonny Addis lofted a free-kick towards the edge of the box and Stephen O’Donnell was unable to deal with the resulting flick-on, resulting in Ronan Doherty sending a volley through the grasp of Deane and into the net for the midfielder's second league goal of the season. 

Ryan Curran makes it 1-0

Ryan Curran makes it 1-0

Chris Gallagher could have made it three from Ronan Hale’s lay-off, but the midfielder's strike took a deflection and was smothered by Gareth Deane. 

On the half-hour mark, Coleraine came close to halving the deficit. Lee Lynch dropped in another pinpoint corner that was met by the head of Bannsiders captain Stephen O’Donnell, but Nathan Gartside parried the initial effort, and the danger was scrambled clear. 

Jonny Addis needed to be alert to turn a dangerous Lyndon Kane cross behind for another set-piece before the break and Lynch threatened again with his corner that was met by Stephen Lowry. His header deflected and hit the bar, going behind for a second corner that would come to nothing as Cliftonville held a 2-0 lead at the break. 

Former Cliftonville striker Michael McCrudden was introduced by Oran Kearney at the break and the visitors were first to threaten after the restart. 

Chris Curran brought down Jamie Glackin on the edge of the box, although the resulting free-kick from Lowry took a deflection and Nathan Gartside hung on. 

Just before the hour mark, Chris Gallagher threaded through a pass that Ronan Hale was able to ghost onto at the back post and his shot crashed off the bar on its way over. 

It was an opportunity the hosts would come to rue as Coleraine hit back with little under 20 minutes remaining through Matthew Shevlin after a whipped cross from the right. 

Matthew Shevlin heads home to give Coleraine hope

Matthew Shevlin heads home to give Coleraine hope

Cliftonville may have restored their two-goal advantage when Ronan Hale picked out Gormley on the edge of the area, but he was only able to poke the ball into the gloves of Gareth Deane. 

The Bannsiders were almost back on terms with 10 minutes remaining as Jamie Glackin was afforded too much room and his attempted cross into the area was stabbed off the line and away from danger by Levi Ives. 

Oran Kearney’s side were firmly on the front foot and a minute shy of the 90 they missed a gilt-edged chance to draw level. 

Josh Carson flicked on Jamie Glackin’s through pass and Matthew Shevlin raced onto the header, rounded Gartside but shot into the side netting. 

That would prove to be their last opportunity as Cliftonville successfully negotiated the remaining minutes to book their place in Saturday evening's decider at the Oval. 

CLIFTONVILLE: Gartside, Lowe, Addis, Turner, Ives, Gallagher, Doherty (Coates 84’), C Curran, R Curran (Moore 73’), Ronan Hale, Gormley (Rocks 78’). 

COLERAINE: Deane, Kane, D Jarvis, Lowry (O’Mahoney 69’), Carson, O’Donnell, Lynch (McCrudden 46’), Glackin, McDermott, Shevlin, Scott (Fyfe 88’). 

REFEREE: Shane Andrews