Cliftonville had Joe Gormley and Brian Neeson to thank for helping edge past Carrick Rangers in tonight’s League Cup Third Round tie.
Though Levi Ives’ exquisite free-kick and Gormley’s penalty had the Reds 2-0 up at half-time, it was the visitors who had carved out the overwhelming majority of opportunities but found Neeson in inspired form against his former employers.
Time and again, he kept the Gers at bay before Cliftonville’s frustrating habit of conceding late goals came back to bite yet again when Carrick hit two quickfire strikes to deservedly draw level in the closing minutes.
With Extra-Time looming, however, it was Gormley who would have the final say with an audacious 89th minute lob that sent the hosts through to the Quarter Finals.
The first opportunity of the game arrived after just four minutes when Carrick’s Stewart Nixon played a one-two with Paul McDowell before drawing a save from Neeson and, after the visitors had survived a penalty scare when Ryan Curran was felled by Chris Rodgers, Neeson again came to the Reds’ aid when Nixon found himself clean through.
Ives opened the scoring on 14 minutes with an inch-perfect free-kick that gave Liam McAuley no chance but Carrick almost levelled immediately only for Kelly to head wide when unmarked.
Lloyd Anderson dragged an attempt across the face of goal and Neeson kept Nixon at bay again before producing a wonderful reaction stop from another Kelly header.
On 40 minutes, Anderson’s poor touch prevented him from converting Lee Chapman’s cross before the Reds doubled their advantage at the other end when Rodgers tripped Curran again and Gormley stepped up to convert from the spot.
The Gers should have reduced the arrears just before the interval only for McDowell to miscue when presented with an open net by Chapman and, though Cliftonville improved slightly after the break, they survived a couple of scares when Damien McNulty was accused of handling in the area before Neeson got down to stop McDowell’s half-volley just past the hour.
After both sides traded efforts from halfway line free-kicks – Gormley calling McAuley into a catch and Caolan Loughran just scaling the bar – Neeson once again came out on top in his latest showdown with Nixon.
Carrick got the goal their efforts deserved 12 minutes from time when Kelly’s powerfully nodded Chapman’s delivery past Neeson and they were level with just two minutes remaining thanks to Anderson’s cool finish in a crowded penalty area.
Just six touches of the ball later, however, Cliftonville were back in front. Rory Donnelly re-started the game by passing to Ryan Catney, who fed Jaimie McGovern and he, in turn, laid the ball back for McNulty, whose dink forward was nodded on by Donnelly, allowing Gormley to nip in behind Rodgers and lift an outrageous first-time lob over the stranded keeper to ensure the hosts’ place in the last eight.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, R Curran, R Donnelly, McDonald, McNulty, Catney, McConnell, Gormley, A Donnelly. Subs: C Curran (McDonald, 57 mins), Garrett (R Curran, 68 mins), J. Donnelly, Lavery (Ives, 27 mins), Maguire, McMenamin, Casey.
Half Gate Draw Number: 91544