Garry Breen pounced for an injury-time winner as Cliftonville produced an incredible comeback to shock Linfield at a raucous Solitude this afternoon.
Trailing to two Aaron Burns goals, the Reds were given hope when Man of the Match Chris Curran found the net with 11 minutes left to play – and the celebrations were cranked up further when substitute Jay Donnelly powered home the equaliser in the closing stages.
Cliftonville weren’t content to settle for a point, though, and Breen thumped home a header deep into time added on to complete a wonderful turnaround on a day that will live long in the memory.
Though this was an occasion that was all about the finish, things almost got off to a perfect start when Joe Gormley set his sights on goal and unleashed a half-volley that whistled just wide of the mark.
The Reds had found themselves largely untroubled by their visitors but nevertheless fell behind with a quarter on an hour gone when Burns pounced to convert Chris Casement’s delivery.
Gormley twice went close to levelling but, after lashing one effort wildly off target, he saw a second saved by Roy Carroll before Ross Lavery fired his follow-up across the face of goal and wide.
The pattern continued after the interval with Gormley once again being denied by Carroll ahead of the Blues doubling their advantage on a rare forward foray; Jaimie McGovern’s trip on Burns earning a penalty which the midfielder picked himself up to convert.
Though the scoreline suggested otherwise, Cliftonville remained on top as far as general play was concerned and were rewarded for their efforts on 79 minutes when Curran’s snapshot found the bottom corner to breathe life into hopes of a stirring finale.
Those dreams were realised shortly afterwards as a neat passing sequence ended with Curran showing neat feet to dig out a cross on the right, with Donnelly powering in to plant an unstoppable header into the back of the net.
The hosts continued to pour forward and Curran looked set to win it but, under pressure from Robert Garrett, his looping header was nodded behind by Mark Stafford. From the resulting corner, Breen saw a close-range attempt charged down but Cliftonville retained possession and worked the ball back out wide to Curran, whose exquisite cross was crying out to be converted – and Breen duly obliged with a header that sparked pandemonium in the stands as the Reds got precisely what they deserved for a superb performance.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Curran, Bagnall, Winchester, Gormley, Lavery, Cosgrove, R Donnelly. Subs: Long, Harney (Cosgrove, 31 mins), Hughes, Garrett (Winchester, 78 mins), J Donnelly (Lavery, 63 mins).
Sean Graham Man of the Match: Chris Curran
Half Gate Draw Number: 61399