With Solitude set to host Europa League First Qualifying Round action in just a few days, cliftonvillefc.net continues a weekly mini-series reflecting on the good, the bad and the in-betweens of the 2017/18 campaign.
Every Monday, we’re taking a chronological look back on a new month from Barry Gray’s first year at the helm – with February falling under our spotlight today.
A Tennent’s Irish Cup Sixth Round date with Crusaders was first on the schedule, when a controversial Joe Gormley penalty set the Reds on course for victory in a fiery North Belfast Derby battle.
Though the spot-kick was saved by Crues goalkeeper Brian Jensen, referee Raymond Hetherington ordered a retake when it transpired that Declan Caddell – who had picked up a second yellow card for fouling Conor McDonald inside the area – had not yet left the pitch following his dismissal.
Gormley made no mistake at the second time of asking and, when Rory Donnelly was bundled over by Craig McClean, another penalty allowed the striker to make it 2-0.
Gormley completed his hat-trick early in the second period and Stephen Garrett added Cliftonville’s fourth before the Crues pulled one back – inevitably from the penalty spot – in the closing stages.
A few days later, focus shifted to another competition as the Reds travelled to The Showgrounds for a League Cup Semi Final contest with Ballymena United.
Having already been postponed twice, the fixture looked set to go ahead at the third time of asking, especially when the go-ahead was given following an afternoon pitch inspection. Howwever, no sooner had the team arrived at the venue than the game was scrapped again – the frozen surface evidently unsuitable to stage a match.
The contest was rearranged for the following weekend, knocking the Reds’ Danske Bank Premiership trip to Warrenpoint Town back a few days, but the occasion proved one to forget for Cliftonville, who bossed the first-half only to concede two sloppy goals after the interval and, after pulling one back to set up a grandstand finale, shipped an injury-time strike to hand the Sky Blues their place in the Final.
The Reds bounced back in that rearranged date with Warrenpoint, where Jay Donnelly and Conor McDonald scored early on before Gormley saw off any hopes of a home comeback by completing the scoring in a 3-1 win before the interval.
Linfield’s visit to Solitude a few days later saw referee Andrew Davey take centre stage as the visitors emerged with full points; the Bangor official inexplicably refusing to award the Reds a penalty for a blatant handball when the Blues were a goal to the good and then allowing play to continue when Linfield midfielder Jamie Mulgrew as good as picked the ball up in the build-up to his side’s second, which rendered Jay Donnelly’s late strike as nothing more than a consolation.
Cliftonville’s frustrations grew the following week when February ended with a woeful performance in a 1-0 defeat to Glentoran at The Oval, however supporters were pleased to toast the recent introduction of midfielder Conor McDonald, who was voted their Sean Graham Player of the Month.
Cliftonville 4-1 Crusaders
Gormley , Garrett
Cliftonville 1-3 Ballymena United
Warrenpoint Town 1-3 Cliftonville
J Donnelly, McDonald, Gormley
Linfield 1-2 Cliftonville
Glentoran 1-0 Cliftonville