CLIFTONVILLE delivered a five-star performance to send Ballinamallard United tumbling out of the IRN-BRU League Cup at Solitude on Tuesday night.
Joe Gormley claimed his first ever hat-trick for the Reds, who also registered through Stephen Garrett and Liam Boyce against their 10-man opponents.
Ever since tasting defeat to the Fermanagh fliers on League duty a month back, the Reds have gone on to climb to the top of the table thanks to four successive Premiership victories but boss Tommy Breslin had intimated before the game that his men were underdogs for the contest given the Mallards’ continued ruffling of feathers across the Irish League landscape.
And, but for a bright opening burst which saw Ryan Campbell force a save from Ryan Brown, the Mallards found themselves under the cosh against a Cliftonville side determined not to let lightning strike twice.
First, Joe Gormley saw a low drive touched behind by Alvin Rouse before the Bajan keeper reacted well to repel Barry Johnston’s volley.
The deadlock was broken on 21 minutes when referee Raymond Hetherington pointed to the spot after Mark Stafford had handled Liam Boyce’s goalbound header and, after the visiting skipper made the long walk for an early shower, Gormley stepped up to rattle home from the spot.
Garrett claimed number two on 28 minutes with a back-post conversion from a Martin Donnelly delivery as the Reds made their extra man count with some entertaining attacking football that kept Rouse busy throughout.
The agile shot-stopper was beaten again on 51 minutes, though, when Gormley teed up Boyce for a wonderful strike from the edge of the area and it was 4-0 just before the hour thanks to Gormley finding a way through a busy goalmouth scramble.
Boyce headed over from a good position soon later and, when Gormley nodded an attempt wide of the mark, he must have thought he’d blown his chances of a hat-trick - until injury-time that is, when James Knowles’ whipped in the near-post delivery for the striker to powerfully head past Rouse from close range.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brown, McGovern, R Scannell, Johnston, Holland, Garrett, Donnelly, Catney, Gormley, Cosgrove, Boyce. Subs: Caldwell (for Garrett, 50 mins), McMullan, O’Carroll (for Boyce, 62 mins), Lynch, Knowles (for Johnston, 55 mins).
BALLINAMALLARD: Rouse, Keohane, Stafford, Kee, C Curran, Feeney, McKenna, Harper, Martin, Campbell, Hill. Subs: Carters (for Feeney, 24 mins), Hutchinson (for Harper, 55 mins), Crawford (for Feeney, 69 mins), McGrath, McCartney.
REFEREE: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon)