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Saturday Stepback: 1978

Though the 2019/20 season was scheduled to have concluded by now, we are nevertheless continuing to fill the void left by Cliftonville-free Saturdays with the latest chapter of our weekly series transporting us back to a game played in yesteryear.

Thanks to the help of the Club’s Heritage Development Officer, Paul Treanor, every Saturday during football’s downtime, will revisit a match from the past via the medium of contemporary newspaper reports – although there’s a slight alteration to the format due to the fact the Reds have never previously played on June 20.

When such anomalies crop up, Paul has been given free rein to reflect on any fixture of his choosing, with a League encounter against Glentoran on October 21, 1978 taking his fancy this week.

The Reds go marching on

Cliftonville, a far cry from the comedians joke team of yesteryear, today handed out a thrashing to Glentoran in this Hennessey Gold Cup opening game at Solitude – a match pulsating with incident and played in an atmosphere of complete spectator involvement. How wonderful to have atmosphere back again.

What’s more, they gave Glentoran manager, Arthur Stewart, a positive reply, the “Harvey Smith Sign” for the non-inclusion of any Cliftonville players in the controversial, almost inconceivable, Irish League squad for the November 1 match with the Scottish League at Fir Park, Motherwell.

If ever one player dominated a game, it was Cliftonville’s 19-year-old midfielder Barney Bowers, who controlled everything; the complete master mind of this victory.

Look at his delicate frame. You feel you could almost blow him down. Yet he produced a tremendous work rate, never shirked a tackle today and his distribution of the ball was the essence of intelligence. Time and again, he pierced this hard pressed Glentoran defence with pin point accurate passes. From his colleagues Mike Adair, Peter McCusker, John Platt, the response was immediate and effective.

And while Bowers was the inspiration, the secret of this Cliftonville success is team work, which was always so evident, particularly throughout a blistering first half in which Glentoran had one moment of menace – a Barry Brown shot which was turned for a corner by the goalkeeper.

Otherwise it was a case of Cliftonville pounding forward like that other glorious side in Red – Liverpool. They won every ball, produced skillful football, played at a fantastic pace which never slackened and, once inside the box, pounced on every opportunity.

Defensively too, they were sound when Glentoran did attack, with John Flanagan commanding in the middle. An all round, competent performance.

Glentoran improved in the second half, pressing forward with more authority but it looks as if this is going to be a lean enough season for them. They need strengthening in midfield, while neither Jim Martin nor Barry Brown got to grips with things today, admittedly it was difficult with the side so much on the defensive.

Cliftonville’s first goal came after 36 minutes, Platt’s shot rebounding off a defender with McCusker from five yards hammering into the roof of the net.

The second followed eight minutes later; Bowers ‘made’ it with a ball into the box, McCusker flicked it over for Platt, who hit it into the net as Denis Matthews came out.

Glentoran at the start of the second half went into attack with Roy Walsh, back after a spell on the sidelines with a leg injury, and Norman Porter flashing two shots past the post but then in the 55th minute came the killer blow from Cliftonville.

Eamonn Largey made the running on the left, Ciaran McCurry, another player with a lot to commend, crossed and there was Walter Mills to prod it over the line.

Glentoran, however, came back when Quiston McFall scored from a Johnny Jameson pass but this was merely a momentary resurgence.

Once again the Reds, concentrating on football all the time, crashed like storm tossed waves on the Oval defence. Adair, substituted in the 70th minute by John O’Connor, hit the side netting, Platt struck an upright and Bowers scrambled the ball into the net only to see the referee rule it out for an infringement.

To add to Glentoran’s misery, a fourth goal arrived in the 86th minute, McCusker taking it past Andy Dougan for O’Connor to score.

It put the match more in perspective and, indeed, Bowers nearly snatched a fifth in the dying seconds.

And so Cliftonville picked up their third successive triumph over Glentoran and the ironic thing about it all was that the brain behind it comes from east Belfast – Barney Bowers, a sensation for the local game.

Just imagine, he’s not good enough for an Irish League team but can be nominated by Northern Ireland manager Danny Blanchflower to participate in training before Wednesday’s European Championship tie against Denmark. Strange things happen in football!

Cliftonville 4 (McCusker, Platt, Mills, O’Conor), Glentoran 1 (McFall, Q)

Man of the Match – Barney Bowers (Cliftonville)

CLIFTONVILLE – Johnston; McGuickan, Largey; Flanagan, Quinn, McCann; McCusker, Mills, Bowers, Platt, Adair. Sub – O’Connor.

GLENTORAN – Matthews; Dougan, R McFall; Walsh, Cranston, Q McFall; Porter, Jamison, Brown, Martin, Carleton. Sub – O’Neill.

REFEREE – R Stewart (Finaghy)