Cliftonville 1-1 Linfield [1-2 on penalties]
Cliftonville saw County Antrim Shield semi-final defeat snatched from the jaws of victory as Linfield levelled late on before emerging on top in this evening’s penalty shootout at Solitude.
In front when Ryan Curran dispatched a spot-kick just past the hour, the Reds were pegged back courtesy of Kyle McClean’s injury-time equaliser ahead of the Blues winning 2-1 in a bizarre shootout that saw the hosts have a strike disallowed before failing from their subsequent three kicks.
Ryan Curran and Chris Shields exchanged strikes to make it 1-1 after one effort each and Chris Curran looked to have put Cliftonville in front before referee Evan Boyce and his officiating team were persuaded that the skipper had sent his shot against his standing foot.
After a lengthy hold-up, the penalty was ruled out ahead of Jordan Stewart blazing his own attempt over the bar.
Cricky Gallagher then dragged wide via the post and, after Martin Donnelly put Linfield in front, Levi Ives slipped before seeing his kick kept out by David Walsh.
Luke McNicholas kept Cliftonville in it when he saved from Ahmed Salam but Walsh’s stop to deny Paul O’Neill sent the visitors through to next year’s Final.
Cliftonville’s night had started brightly enough and, following a 20-minute delay to kick-off to allow long queues of Reds fans to make it through the turnstiles, Ryan Curran saw his header from Ives’ corner drift over the top.
Salam clipped the outside of the post with a strike from distance before McNicholas made a smart stop to keep Stewart at bay.
Jamie McDonagh swept an effort into the side netting in the closing minutes of the first-half before the Reds were rewarded for an enterprising opening to the second period when good work from Daniel Kearns saw him feed Kris Lowe inside the box and, when he was bundled over by Stewart, referee Boyce had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, with Ryan Curran making no mistake.
Good work from Ives prevented Ross Larkin from banking an immediate equaliser ahead of the left-back sending a shot off target at the other end.
McNicholas got down to gather a Donnelly shot on 70 minutes and that was as much as Linfield threatened until injury-time when, having got off the hook when Christy Manzinga’s header was ruled out for offside, the Reds were pegged back when McClean found a finish in a crowded penalty area to ensure the contest would be settled from the spot.
Cliftonville: McNicholas, Ives, C Curran, R Curran, McDonagh (McDermott, 67 mins), Lowe, Addis, Gormley, Turner, Gallagher, Kearns (O’Neill, 81 mins). Unused subs: Dunne, Harney, Foster, Casey, Coates.