IRISH CUP: Ross Gaynor insists Linfield will be ‘massive contenders’ on all fronts next season

Andy Waterworth scores past Cliftonville's Conor Devlin
Andy Waterworth scores past Cliftonville's Conor Devlin

Ross Gaynor believes Linfield will be “massive contenders” on all trophy fronts next season.

The Blues booked their place in the semi-finals of the Tennent’s Irish Cup on Saturday with an impressive 3-0 win over nine-man Cliftonville.

Ross  Gaynor celbrates scoring his penalty with Guy Bates

Ross Gaynor celbrates scoring his penalty with Guy Bates

The triumph at Solitude was the latest significant statement of intent from David Healy’s side.

Gaynor scored twice – including a late penalty – with Andy Waterworth also on target.

It has booked the Blues a semi-final date with Championship 1 minnows Lurgan Celtic on Friday, April 1 at Windsor Park.

“The manager has that winning mentality, and it is rubbing off on the players,” Gaynor said.

“He says we are winners and we will win trophies.

“The squad have responded to that and everyone has been superb, even the lads on the bench.

“We also have players coming back into the squad, and I think we will be massive contenders next season.

“As for this season, we have to keep fighting and maybe give Crusaders a little scare.”

Gaynor broke the deadlock with an instinctive strike from inside the box in the 56th minute.

Waterworth added a second with a neat finish from an acute angle in the 76th minute.

Gaynor rubbed salt into Cliftonville’s wounds with a cool penalty in the 91st minute, after Reds goalkeeper Conor Devlin had upended Paul Smyth inside the box.

Devlin then saw red for foul and abusive language in the aftermath of the spot-kick – just moments after being booked for kicking the ball in the direction of Linfield’s celebrating players.

Caoimhin Bonner also received his marching orders when he picked up a second booking in the 93rd minute.

Gaynor – who signed for Linfield in December in an 18-month deal – believes the Blues’ season hinged on Saturday’s result.

The Windsor Park men sit second in the Danske Bank Premiership, seven points behind Crusaders – but have played a game more.

“I think as a group we kind of knew this was our season– a major chance of winning a cup and a medal,” Gaynor added.

“We prepared all week for this ‘cup final’, which it was for us. In the first half you could see the hunger in the players, and we managed to get the goals in the second half.

“We haven’t won here in a few years, so to get a win and move into the semi-finals is massive.

“We are in a semi-final now. I have been in a few cup finals in the League of Ireland, and they are memories that stick with you forever. So hopefully we can get to this final and I can get my first medal up here.”

Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle was left searching for answers following a tepid display from his side.

He also accused Devlin and Bonner of ill-discipline following their red cards.

“The two lads were silly. It was ill-discipline,” he said.

“What they were trying to prove, I don’t know. The game was over.

“We have lost the game, which is the most disappointing thing. But we are now two players down through suspensions. That adds some pressure on the squad.”

Lyttle added: “I don’t know what has gone wrong, but there is a spark missing. And performances haven’t been up to standard. But we will work on fixing it.”