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Linfield 5-1 Cliftonville

A much-changed Cliftonville side endured a night to forget at Windsor Park, where Linfield eased to a comfortable 5-1 success.

Fielding six amendments from the weekend, the Reds fell behind on 11 minutes when Daniel Kearns converted after Michael O’Connor had done well to keep the hosts’ attack alive in the aftermath of Jordan Stewart’s dinked delivery to the back post.

O’Connor would add the second and third himself with a quickfire brace before the interval; making it 2-0 from close range before producing a cool finish when one-on-one with Brian Neeson.

The Blues added a fourth in hugely controversial style shortly after the break when Stewart jinked his way into some space inside the box and sent off a shot which took a significant touch off a clearly offside Kearns, who didn’t even celebrate when the ball deflected into the net past a wrong-footed Neeson. The Assistant Referee in front of the South Stand appeared to ask questions regarding the validity of the strike but, with referee Ross Dunlop amazingly convinced that Kearns – whose intervention completely changed the ball’s direction of travel – had not interfered with play, the goal was allowed to stand.

The contest clearly over, Cliftonville were much improved thereafter and saw Conor McMenamin hit the crossbar before being rewarded for a fine individual display when he diverted Ryan Curran’s effort home after some good build-up play from substitute Thomas Maguire.

Chris Curran was next to rattle the woodwork when he let fly from distance but whatever slim hopes the Reds – who handed a debut to youngster Donal Rocks in the final quarter – had of staging an unlikely comeback were well and truly snuffed out when Stewart threaded Kirk Millar through for a well-taken finish in the closing minutes.

Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, C Curran, R Harkin, R Curran, A Harkin, Bagnall, McMenamin, Gormley, Gorman. Subs: Brush, Catney, McConnell, Maguire (for R Harkin), A Donnelly, Rocks (for Bagnall), Whiteway.