CLIFTONVILLE 2 LINFIELD 2
Cliftonville cannot now qualify for Europe after a battling home draw with Linfield officially ended their hopes of an end-of-season reprieve – and boss Tommy Breslin has vowed that there will be changes this summer.
Joe Gormley netted twice for the Reds but, with Michael Carvill and Aaron Burns on target in between, the hosts were unable to get the three points necessary to keep the dream alive.
“We have signings in mind that we want to make and we’ll look to the reserves too because it’s clear we need to freshen things up,” said Breslin.
“Yes, we’ve had our injury problems but it’s also true that we’ve not performed as well as we should have done and you can’t just hope the issues we’ve had will resolve themselves. Things need to be addressed and that’s what will happen.”
Breslin handed the captain’s armband to long-serving defender Ronan Scannell, who was making his final Solitude appearance ahead of impending retirement, and also welcomed Davy McDaid back to proceedings in attack as the former Derry City ace went in search of his first goal since January’s Irish Cup fifth round victory over Ards Rangers – when a red card for headbutting spelt his absence for a long stretch of this second half of the season.
Caoimhin Bonner replaced the injured Marc Smyth at the back as Cliftonville’s bustling casualty ward - which already included Barry Johnston, Johnny Flynn, Chris Curran and Stephen Garrett – took receipt of its latest patient.
The Blues, meanwhile, entered battle without the services of inspirational midfielder Jamie Mulgrew and knew that victory would not only mathematically secure the Premiership’s runners-up spot, but could also provide the fatal blow to their hosts’ hopes of European qualification.
Their chances of doing that got off to a bad start when Stephen Lowry felled McDaid inside the area and Joe Gormley made no mistake from the penalty spot.
It wasn’t long before the Blues had turned things round, with Michael Carvill levelling before Aaron Burns angled home an excellent half-volley but Gormley would have the final telling say of a wonderful first-half when he nodded in Martin Donnelly’s cross from close range.
The Reds saw a host of chances come and go in the second 45 minutes but, with Glenavon getting the better of Portadown, a point was not enough to maintain their European ambitions.
CLIFTONVILLE: Cherrie, McGovern, Scannell, McMullan, McDaid, M Donnelly, Knowles, Catney, Gormley, Cosgrove, Bonner. Subs: Seydak, Winchester (M Donnelly, 76 mins), J Donnelly (McMullan, 55 mins), McGrandles, Keke (Catnry, 83 mins).
LINFIELD: Tuffey, Belezika, Hegarty, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Lowry, Carvill, Burns, M Clarke, Sproule. Subs: Ross Glendinning, Thompson, Ward (Hegarty, 55 mins), Morrow, R Clarke (Sproule, 64 mins).
REFEREE: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)