Garry Breen’s towering header earned Cliftonville a comeback victory in this afternoon’s friendly with a Swansea City XI at Solitude.
Trailing to Jordan Garrick’s clever finish, the Reds levelled through Jay Donnelly before Breen struck before the interval with a goal that would ultimately decide the contest.
Overseeing his new charges on home turf for the first time, boss Barry Gray saw things get off to an ominous start for Cliftonville when his team’s first meaningful touch in the opening minutes was a Tomas Cosgrove header to clear Biabi Botti’s thunderous drive off the line.
From the resulting corner, however, Swansea were ahead when Aaron Lewis returned possession into the area, where Garrick lay in wait to poke a first-time finish beyond Brian Neeson.
The Reds grew into the contest as the opening half wore on with Jay Donnelly thwarted by goalkeeper Gregor Zabret before Stephen Garrett, Chris Curran and Martin Donnelly all tried their luck.
The leveller came seemingly from nowhere when, having appeared to have run himself into trouble near the byline, Daniel Hughes showed near feet to somehow dig out a delivery that Jay Donnelly – brother of former Reds and Swans striker Rory – was only too happy to convert from point-blank range.
It wasn’t long before the hosts took the lead, with Breen rising above visiting skipper Joe Rodon to loop a header beyond Zabret’s grasp and into the net – and Cliftonville were in full control from that point onwards.
A lively second-half display saw Hughes unfortunate not to earn himself a deserved goal, while both Breen and fellow central defender Jamie Harney came within inches of connecting with Martin Donnelly’s teasing set-piece deliveries.
Jay Donnelly almost extended Cliftonville’s lead further when an excellent touch from the alert Breen teed the striker up for a volley that he was unfortunate to see whistle just over the bar but, with Neeson a virtual spectator for long stretches at the other end of the park, Gray’s men ran out comfortable winners at the end of a pleasing performance.
REDS: Neeson, Ives, Breen, Harney, Curran, Hughes, Garrett, M Donnelly, Bagnall, J Donnelly, Cosgrove. Subs: Dunne, McGovern (for Harney), Seydak (for Ives), Lavery (for M Donnelly), G Donnelly (for Hughes).