BALLYMENA UTD 0 CLIFTONVILLE 0
(Cliftonville win 4-2 on aggregate)
Cliftonville began the new football campaign they way the left off last season – by winning a trophy!
Even though the NI Hospice Charity Shield final against Ballymena United was hardly a classic, the Reds held their nerve in a penalty shoot-out to lift the trophy which was resurrected after a 14-year absence.
Following 90 minutes of endeavour and toil, both teams failed miserably in front of goal. It was no surprise that penalty kicks would be required to sort it out.
George McMullan, James Knowles, new boy Johnny Flynn and Marc Smyth were all successful for the Reds with the usually lethal Joe Gormley fluffing his lines.
Matthew Tipton and Michael Ruddy converted for United, but Reds goalkeeper Conor Devlin saved from David Cushley and Tony Kane.
Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin received a blow before kick off when midfielder Chris Curran damaged knee tendons in the warm-up. Martin Murray was drafted into the starting 11.
United created the first chance of the day when Alan Teggart sent Cushley racing down the left and his low cross was poked inches wide by new signing from Linfield, Matthew Tipton.
The Reds burst to life two minutes later. Neal Gawley’s wayward pass was intercepted by Marty Donnelly, who threaded an inch perfect pass into the path of Gormley, but his shot was partially blocked by goalkeeper Dwayne Nelson before defender Mark McCullagh mopped up.
Gormley was through again minutes later, this time slipped in by Jude Winchester. Again the big man looked far form comfortable in front of goal, scuffing his shot harmlessly wide.
Ballymena were always dangerous on the break. Tipton’s neat back flick set up Cushley, but he failed to trouble goalkeeper Devlin.
United had a real let off on 34 minutes when Johnny Taylor’s woefully short back pass was intercepted by Gormley, leaving Nelson totally stranded. But after rounding the shot stopper, Gormley again drilled his shot wide of the mark from a difficult angle.
It was the Reds who blew a sigh of relief only three minutes before the break. New signing Johnny Flynn from Falkirk was rather harshly adjudged to have fouled the lively Tipton. Neal Gawley stepped up to take the free-kick but he looked on in frustration has his 20 yard drive crashed off the crossbar with Devlin nowhere near it.
Cliftonville were quickly out of the traps after the break. Gormley for once got in behind the United defence and, after holding off a challenge from substitute Kyle McVey – signed on Thursday from Linfield – his shot was easily dealth with by Nelson.
But Tipton had a wonderful opportunity to break the deadlock on 54 minutes when he latched on to a peach of a pass from Allan Jenkins. Devlin got down smartly to smother the striker’s drive.
United threatened again on 60 minutes when Gawley’s free kick found defender Johnny Taylor at the back post, but his header lacked conviction, leaving Devlin with an easy save.
Big Gormley just couldn’t believe his luck on 76 minutes. He was picked up by a brilliant diagonal ball from substitute Smyth and his thundering drive rattled back off the post.
Tipton missed a glorious chance in the last minute to win it for United, meeting a Kane cross, but he shamefully headed straight at Devlin.
Then, at the other end with the seconds ticking down, Jay Donnelly curled a beauty inches past the post.
Cliftonville: Devlin, McGovern (Smyth 74), Johnston (Knowles 74), Flynn, McMullan, M Donnelly (Caldwell 74), Catney, Winchester (McGrandles 86), Gormley, Murray (J Donnelly 58), Cosgrove.
Ballynena United: Nelson, McCullagh, Taylor, Stewart (McVey 28), McBride (Ruddy 73), Gawley (Kane 68), Davidson (Taggart 66), Jenkins, Teggart (Thompson 66), Cushley, Tipton.
Referee: A Davey (Bangor).