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Reds find Windsor spark

Linfield 0-1 Cliftonville

Joe Gormley struck the only goal of the game as Cliftonville booked their place in the Semi Finals of the Tennent’s Irish Cup at Linfield’s expense.

The striker showed a cool head to convert an exquisite through-ball from Ruairi Harkin with 11 minutes left on the clock to reward the Reds – who lived dangerously on occasions – for a much improved second-half display at Windsor Park.

A slow start was almost punished with a third minute opener from Linfield winger Kirk Millar, whose looping header required goalkeeper Brian Neeson to be alert.

Neeson then made two quickfire saves to thwart Kurtis Byrne before Mark Haughey forced the Reds keeper to turn a long-range attempt over the top and, just before the break, home defender Mark Stafford saw a bullet header come crashing back off the crossbar.

Arguably fortunate to be level at the break, Cliftonville stepped things up in the second-half and almost took the lead when Garry Breen got on the end of Shane Grimes’ corner only to see his deft header crawl wide of the far post.

Despite assuming a greater degree of control over proceedings, the Reds were unable to make their possession count when it came to testing Linfield keeper Alex Moore, whose only notable contribution throughout that period was the collection of another Grimes corner.

The Blues came agonisingly close to edging ahead on 77 minutes when, in a rare second-half foray into the visiting penalty area, Stephen Lowry thrashed at the ball three times and, after being denied by a combination of Jamie Harney and Neeson, could only look on as the ball rolled along the line and clipped the post before being seized upon by the Cliftonville keeper.

The hosts would live to rue that moment because, just two minutes later, the ball was in the net at the other end as Gormley timed his run to perfection to spring the offside trap from a delicious Harkin assist and confidently stroke beyond Moore to send the Red Army into raptures.

An expected Linfield onslaught in the final stages – including a questionable five minutes of additional time – never really materialised, thanks in no small part to some steadfast defending and, indeed, Cliftonville might have gone on to double their advantage when some delightful combination play between Conor McDonald and Rory Donnelly ended with the latter looking for one pass too many, allowing the home defence to clear.

An injury to Stephen Garrett meant the Reds, who had used all three substitutions, would see the night out with just 10 men but the visitors stood strong and restricted Linfield to a wayward Haughey attempt from distance as they held on to book their place in the last four.

Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Breen, Harney, Curran, Garrett, Bagnall, Gormley, Grimes, McDonald, R Donnelly. Subs: Dunne, Ives, Harkin (for Bagnall, 74 mins), Winchester, J Donnelly (for Gormley, 83 mins) Lavery, Cosgrove (for McGovern, 67 mins).