Cliftonville were eliminated from the County Antrim Shield this evening as two goals in the last five minutes saw Crusaders progress to the Semi Finals.
Behind when David Cushley converted from the spot following a hugely controversial handball award, the Reds turned the tie around thanks to a Joe Gormley double; his 28th minute header levelling things before a well-taken half-volley put the hosts in front with little over 20 minutes remaining.
The Crues rallied, however, and substitute Paul Heatley first equalised before winning the tie with a smartly-taken finish.
Things got off to a disappointing start for Cliftonville when referee Andrew Davey – nine days on from a string of infuriating non-penalty decisions in the Reds’ defeat to Coleraine – pointed to the spot when Jamie Harney was deemed to have handled a high ball inside the area. Cushley duly stepped up to break the deadlock.
Gormley – on his 200th appearance for the Club – restored parity when he ghosted in to convert Rory Donnelly’s flick-on ahead of goalkeeper Michael Dougherty getting down to collect a Jay Donnelly drive.
Jordan Owens thought he had put the Crues back in front on 39 minutes but, as he prepared to set off in celebration of his header creeping into the bottom corner, a flying save from Brian Neeson turned the ball behind.
Both sides hit the woodwork in a frantic opening five minutes of the second period, with Gormley heading a Tomas Cosgrove delivery against the underside of the crossbar before Cushley was likewise frustrated by the frame of the goal at the other end.
Another Reds player making a milestone outing, Stephen Garrett, was unable to mark his 300th appearance with a goal when, after doing well to work his way into the area, he saw himself crowded out ahead of the ball being worked behind for a corner.
The net did bulge on 68 minutes, however, when another Rory Donnelly header teed Gormley up for a strike at goal and his superb half-volley fizzed past Dougherty, whose touch was not enough to keep the ball out.
As the clock ticked down on Cliftonville’s attempts to record a long overdue North Belfast Derby success, sub Heatley – introduced in the aftermath of Crusaders falling behind – made it 2-2 when he pounced to convert via the base of the post with just five minutes left.
And the winger would have the night’s final and decisive say shortly afterwards when, having beaten Neeson in a race for the ball, his strike at goal was charged down by Levi Ives only for the ball to return to Heatley’s path and he made no mistake with a well-hit effort that whistled into the far corner and sent the visitors through.
CLIFTONVILLE: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Harney, Bagnall, Winchester, Gormley, J Donnelly, Cosgrove, R Donnelly. Subs: Curran, Hughes (for R Donnelly), Garrett (for McGovern), M Donnelly, Lavery.
Half Gate Draw Number: 66664