As the countdown to Thursday night’s European opener with Nordsjælland continues, our latest retrospective steps back two years to Cliftonville’s most recent victory on the continental stage.
For it was on this day in 2016 that the Reds overcame Differdange in a Europa League First Qualifying Round clash that was notable for a Club goalscoring milestone.
A week on from conceding a late leveller in the first leg at Stade Municipal de la Ville, Differdange boss Pascal Carzaniga tempted fate by suggesting he wouldn’t be concerned if his side shipped an early goal at Solitude so long as they were ahead come the close of play – and was duly left cursing his words when Davy McDaid put the Reds in front with just two minutes on the clock.
The second-half dismissal of Luxembourgers’ defender Tom Siebenaler handed Cliftonville a numerical advantage they made the most of when Jay Donnelly converted a Chris Curran cut-back to make it 2-0 – the first time the Reds had ever scored two goals in a European tie.
They followed up that achievement by repeating the trick against AEK Larnaca seven days later, when Donnelly became the first Cliftonville player to net in successive matches in UEFA competition, only for the Cypriots to hit back for a 3-2 win on the night that they improved to a 5-2 aggregate success when the sides met for the second time.
In addition to the victory over Differdange, today also marks the anniversary of two prior European engagements, both of which ended in defeat.
On July 7, 2007, the Reds suffered a 2-0 loss to Belgium’s KAA Gent in the first leg of an InterToto Cup Second Round showdown at the now-demolished Jules Ottenstadion where, despite going close through a long-range David McAlinden free-kick, Cliftonville were undone by two goals from former Ireland international Dominic Foley.
The fixture ended in controversy when Declan O’Hara and Christophe Gregoire were both shown straight red cards following a confrontation on the touchline, only for the Club to successfully appeal against any suspension for the defender when video footage exonerated O’Hara of any wrongdoing.
Exactly four years later, Cliftonville suffered a painful Europa League exit when The New Saints somehow held on to earn a 2-1 aggregate success at Solitude.
Having taken the lead early on, the Welsh side stood firm against at times incessant home pressure and, with Ryan Catney, Rory Donnelly and Joe Gormley all hitting the crossbar during a pulsating second-half, the Reds were left wondering what might have been as TNS progressed to tackle FC Midtjylland of Denmark in the Second Qualifying Round.