Cliftonville lose out in Europa League thriller at Solitude

AEK Larnaca celebrate after scoring to make it 3-2 at Solitude
AEK Larnaca celebrate after scoring to make it 3-2 at Solitude

Cliftonville have it all to do in the Europa League following Thursday night’s 3-2 defeat to AEK Larnaca.

The Reds threw away a two-goal lead before going down to the resilient Cypriot visitors at Solitude.

Gerard Lyttle’s side appeared on course for a superb European victory when goals from Jason McGuinness and Jay Donnelly gifted them a healthy advantage in this second qualifying round, first leg clash.

But Larnaca fought back with gusto in the second half, with goals from Ivan Trickovski, Elias Charalambous and Joan Thomas sealing a spirited win in north Belfast.

It gives Larnaca three vital away goals ahead of next week’s second leg at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium.

New signing McGuinness sent Cliftonville ahead when he headed home Marty Donnelly’s corner in the 18th minute.

The home side had other chances in the first half, with Jude Winchester and James Knowles both denied by Larnaca goalkeeper Rubin Mino.

It was 2-0 just four minutes after the break when Jay Donnelly found the target, the striker arrowing a low shot home from inside the area after running onto a ball over the top by David McDaid.

That’s as good as it got for the Reds, with Trickovski reducing the arrears in the 60th minute.

Trickovski – who scored four goals in the last round – ran onto a long ball and beat goalkeeper Jason Mooney.

Charalambous drew the sides level four minutes later when he beat Mooney with a cool finish.

And the comeback was complete in the 76th minute when Thomas got on the end of Trickovski’s clever back-heel and fired into the bottom left-hand corner from close range.