Cliftonville produced another commanding display to sweep Ballinamallard United aside at Solitude this afternoon.
The Reds had already seen two gilt-edged opportunities go to waste by the time Jay Donnelly’s opened the scoring on three minutes, while two quickfire Joe Gormley strikes put the hosts in full control before the interval.
Despite bossing possession after the break, Cliftonville found a resolute Mallards side more difficult to break down until substitute Daniel Hughes capitalised on a defensive error before adding his second of the day from the penalty spot after he’d been chopped down by Ryan McConnell.
The hosts, who made no changes to the line-up that overcame Carrick Rangers seven days ago, started in a hurry and could have been in front after just 40 seconds when Gormley saw a header repelled by goalkeeper Richard Brush, who also denied the striker little more than a minute later.
It wasn’t long before the breakthrough arrived, however, with Donnelly slamming home a left-footed volley after Chris Curran’s corner had been flicked on.
It was 2-0 just past the half-hour when Garry Breen’s free-kick found Rory Donnelly, whose header took Brush out of the equation and left Gormley with the simplest of tasks at the back post.
The same player doubled his personal tally soon afterwards when he capitalised on Brush’s collision with Ross Taheny to ensure Cliftonville held a commanding lead at half-time.
Ballinamallard emerged with greater doggedness after the turnaround and suddenly the Reds found space and attempts on goal hard to come by, although substitute Stephen Garrett did force the keeper into a smart stop low down to his left.
It looked for long stretches as though the scoring was complete until, after being barged into by team mate Jason McCartney, Brush spilled his attempted catch of a Rory Donnelly header and Hughes was on hand to touch the ball over the line from just a yard out.
McConnell’s foul on Hughes then earned Cliftonville a penalty which the striker picked himself up to convert and put the seal on a dominant display.
Sean Graham Man of the Match: Chris Curran
Half Gate Draw Number: 67871