The difference between professional and part-time football was starkly exposed at Solitude this evening when AEK Larnaca's superior fitness told in a comeback victory over a tenacious Cliftonville side. Two goals up through Jason McGuinness and Jay Donnelly, the Reds were undone in a devastating 18 minute spell that saw the Cypriots take a firm grasp at the halfway stage of this Europa League Second Qualifying Round encounter. Larnaca started brightly and almost took a fortuitous lead on nine minutes when former Atletico Madrid midfielder Larena Jorge's shot was fumbled by home goalkeeper Jason Mooney, who recovered in time to prevent the ball creeping neither over the goal line nor out for a corner kick. Cliftonville gradually settled into the contest and broke the deadlock with 18 minutes on the clock when Martin Donnelly's corner kick was powered home by skipper McGuinness, whose willingness to go in where it hurts prevented him from enjoying any kind of meaningful celebration with his team mates. It was almost 2-0 shortly afterwards only for Ruben Mino to make a fine fingertip stop to deny Jude Winchester and the ex-Barcelona keeper was called into action again before half-time when he turned a stinging James Knowles attempt over the top. The second period was just five minutes old when the Reds doubled their advantage; Knowles' clever chip forward seized upon by Jay Donnelly, who kept his composure to become the first ever Cliftonville player to score in two consecutive European matches. Things would turn in Larnaca's favour just before the hour, though, when Macedonian international Ivan Trickovski - on target four times against Folgore in the previous round - got on the end of Joan Tomas' inch-perfect pass to slot beyond Mooney. The away goal breathed fresh life into the visitors, who slowly worked their way through the gears before levelling on 64 minutes. Once again, Trickovski - formerly of Red Star Belgrade, Brugge and Legia Warsaw - threaded an incisive ball through to the rampagning Elias Charalambous and the 64-times capped Cyprus left-back made no mistake with a first-time finish. Larnaca weren't merely content to leave Belfast with a draw, however, and duly got their winner shortly afterwards; ex-Villarreal and Celta Vigo ace Tomas picked out by Trickovski's clever back-heel for a close-range conversion that gives 'Kitrinoprasinoi' the advantage ahead of next week's return meeting at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium.
Reds Larn harsh lesson
Cliftonville 2-3 AEK Larnaca
Jason McGuinness salutes the fans after opening the scoring; Jay Donnelly pounces to make it 2-0 and (right) Jude Winchester looks on as Vincent Laban and Larena Jorge both fail to take control
12. 2. 5. 10. 14. 19. 22.
Peter Burke Jaimie McGovern Chris Ramsey Stephen Garrett Daniel Hughes Darren Murray Ross Lavery
1. 3. 4. 6. 7. 8. 9. 11. 18. 21. 23.
Jason Mooney Levi Ives Caoimhin Bonner Jason McGuinness Chris Curran James Knowles Davy McDaid Martin Donnelly Jude Winchester Jay Donnelly Tomas Cosgrove
Date Thursday, July 14, 2016
Competition Europa League Second Qualifying Round, 1st Leg