Rory and Jay Donnelly each found the net as Cliftonville overcame the Northern Ireland Junior International Team in this evening’s Solitude friendly.
Ahead when Rory rose to nod home Ross Lavery’s free-kick, the Reds were pegged back by a penalty before half-time but returned to the led when Jay – who had replaced his older brother at the interval – rattled in an unstoppable volley following a cross by namesake Martin.
An own goal from former Cliftonville defender Ryan Arthur put the seal on the victory as boss Barry Gray made use of 19 players during a testing midweek workout.
The evening got off to a somewhat bizarre start when, with only two officials reporting for duty, home Kitman Brian Campbell was asked to perform the Assistant Referee’s role on the Waterworks side of the ground but he – just like everyone else – had very little to cast an eye over during some dull early exchanges that were almost lit up when Chris Curran’s long-range curler whistled just inches wide of the post.
On 17 minutes, however, a fully kitted out linesman suddenly marched through the turnstiles and hot-footed it across to the far side of the ground, where he was presented with his flag with the contest still scoreless.
That particular statistic would be amended just past the half-hour when Ross Lavery’s free-kick delivery was met by Rory Donnelly, whose downward header beat the goalkeeper to give Cliftonville a lead they would relinquish soon later; Levi Ives’ foul earning the Northern Ireland XI a penalty that was dispatched despite keeper Declan Dunne guessing the right way.
The Reds were back in front early in the second period when some wing wizardry from Martin Donnelly ended with the execution of an inch-perfect delivery for Jay to blast home inside the area.
The visitors almost levelled in comical fashion, though, when a long punt forward was completely misjudged by the out-rushing Brian Neeson, whose blushes were spared by an offside flag just as the ball was nestling in the back of an empty net.
Northern Ireland’s Junior XI did get the next goal but, unfortunately for them, it was at the wrong end when miscommunication at the back saw Arthur – seven days on from being part of the Knockbreda side hit for six on County Antrim Shield duty by the Reds – nod the ball back towards his own keeper, whose best efforts were not enough to prevent it from crawling over the line.
Cliftonville: Dunne, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Ramsey, Curran, Bagnall, Winchester, Lavery, Gormley, R Donnelly. Subs: Neeson (for Dunne), Hughes (for Winchester), Garrett (for Gormley), M Donnelly (for Lavery), Caldwell (for Ramsey), J Donnelly (for R Donnelly), G Donnelly (for Curran), A Donnelly (for Ives).