BATTLE: Cliftonville's Liam Boyce with Ballinamallard's Mark Stafford
BATTLE: Cliftonville's Liam Boyce with Ballinamallard's Mark Stafford

AFTER breezing past the challenge of Ballinamallard United at Solitude on Saturday, Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin said all talk of a sixth round date with Donegal Celtic will be put on hold until the time is right.

The Reds, who travel to DC on Danske Bank Premiership duty tomorrow night, were knocked out of last year’s competition by the west Belfast outfit and Breslin expects both of their forthcoming jousts to be typically fiery affairs.

“The fact they put us out 12 months ago means we know not to take anything for granted,” he said.

“Packie McAllister’s starting to get them playing the way he wants to and I’m sure that, by the time the game comes around, they’ll be well fired up to come here and upset us all over again.

“At the minute, though, that match goes on the backburner because we have a lot of very important fixtures between now and then - starting, ironically, against DC on Tuesday night.”

Victory on the Suffolk Road would stretch the Reds’ lead at the top of the table to nine points but it was cup progress that was up for grabs at the weekend as Breslin’s men ensured that Ballinamallard would not enjoy any repeat of their September success at Solitude.

Joe Gormley set the ball rolling with a fourth-minute conversion from Stephen Garrett’s cross and, though Ryan Campbell popped up with an instant leveller, Gormley restored the home lead from the penalty spot after being fouled by goalkeeper Alvin Rouse.

In between times, the Mallards had been reduced to 10 men thanks to David Kee earning quickfire bookings from referee Alan Black but, unperturbed, boss Whitey Anderson set his men up in an attacking formation after the break and, after seeing the Reds waste a host of chances to put the seal on things, the visitors should have levelled when Andy Crawford’s header fell for Craig Hill inside the area - but, from just a handful of yards out, his under-hit shot was cleared off the line by Martin Donnelly.

The final few minutes belonged to Liam Boyce and, after showing considerable strength and trickery to weave his way into a goalscoring position for 3-1, reacted to Steven Sheridan’s consolation at the other end by bamboozling the United defence once again to complete the day’s scoring shortly afterwards.

“Some of our defending was very poor,” said Anderson afterwards.

“Cliftonville are a good team and Boyce is one of the best about, but it doesn’t help when you defend against them the way we did.

“We were also very frustrated with some of the refereeing decisions and felt he lacked consistency. I’ve not said much about officials this season but, though our lives are governed by rules and regulations, common sense should always over-rule everything and I’m not sure that’s happened here.”

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, Garrett, Donnelly, O’Carroll, Seydak, Smyth, Catney, Gormley, Cosgrove, McVeigh, Boyce. Subs: R Scannell (for Seydak, 17 mins), Johnston, McMullan, Lynch (for Garrett, 61 mins) O’Kane (for O’Carroll, 66 mins).

BALLINAMALLARD: Rouse, Hill, Keohane, Liggett, Stafford, Kee, Curran, Crawford, McCartney, McKenna, Campbell. Subs: Feeney (for Keohane, 46 mins), McGrath, Martin (for Campbell, 75 mins), Sheridan (for McCartney, 75 mins), Cashel.

REFEREE: Alan Black (Antrim)