Michael McCrudden was at the double to help Cliftonville overcome Dungannon Swifts at Solitude this evening.
In between his two strikes, Ryan O’Reilly netted his first Reds goal on a night when visiting goalkeeper Roy Carroll kept the score down with a string of saves.
It was, however, opposite number Aaron McCarey who was first called into action, with his eye-catching fingertip stop from Shane McGinty stopping the Swifts making a 15th minute breakthrough.
He also kept out an attempt from James Convie soon later and, after Rhyss Campbell rolled an inviting ball across the face of goal and wide, Cliftonville reacted to those scares by taking a firm grip on proceedings and almost opened the scoring themselves when Jamie Harney sent Aaron Donnelly’s cross against the woodwork.
Ethan McGee then cleared off the line from Chris Curran before the deadlock was broken when Donnelly played Daire O’Connor in on the left and his high cross fell perfectly for McCrudden to nod into the corner.
Almost immediately, a double save from Carroll stopped Ryan Curran from making it 2-0, while McCrudden was also denied by the keeper ahead of O’Reilly curling a 45th minute effort inches off target.
He got his angles spot on early in the second-half, though, when he was perfectly placed to force the ball over the line after O’Connor had played the ball into the danger area after receiving Rory Hale’s short corner.
It was 3-0 on 61 minutes when Donnelly’s inch-perfect pass put McCrudden in the clear and, with Carroll teased off his line, the striker lifted the ball over his head and into the empty net.
Carroll was then fortunate to gather the ball from a ricochet off Hale and O’Reilly went close to scoring again only for Callum Byers to hook his unorthodox shot off the line.
Harney then sent an attempt over the top from Donnelly’s corner delivery and, though the Reds eased off in the closing stages, they could still have added to their lead with Ryan Curran seeing a brace of attempts closed down inside the box.
Cliftonville: McCarey, O’Reilly, Harney (G Breen, 75 mins), C Curran, O’Connor (O’Brien, 85 mins), R Curran, McCrudden, Donnelly, Bagnall (Coffey, 77 mins), Hale, Lowe. Unused subs: D Breen, Casey, Kearns, Teggart.