Linfield edge out Reds on penalties in Co Antrim Shield semi-final

Cliftonville’s Chris Curran and Linfield’s Jordan Stewart during the Co Antrim Shield semi-final at Solitude on Tuesday night
Picture: Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker 

Co Antrim Shield semi-final: Cliftonville 1 Linfield 1 (Linfield win 2-1 on penalties)

CLIFTONVILLE passed up a glorious opportunity to reach the County Antrim Shield final when they were undone by Linfield in a bizarre penalty shoot-out last night. 

Leading through Ryan Curran’s second-half spot kick, the Reds shipped an injury-time equaliser before going down 2-1 in a shoot-out that saw skipper Chris Curran’s strike disallowed for a double-kick of the ball. 

The Blues progress to meet Larne in the New Year decider, having looked down and out for long stretches of last night’s contest. 

Home chief Paddy McLaughlin was forced into one change from the side that overcame Ballymena United at the weekend, with Aaron Donnelly – who departed from that contest with a half-time injury – replaced by Jamie McDonagh. 

There were more wholesale amendments on the Linfield side, however, with just five survivors from Saturday’s impressive victory at Coleraine. Goalkeeper David Walsh was one of six fresh faces, alongside Ross Larkin, Martin Donnelly, Andrew Clarke, Joshua Archer and Jordan Stewart – who had found the net in both of the Blues’ previous meetings with Cliftonville this term. 

Following a 15 minute delay to kick-off to accommodate the long lines of home fans queuing at the turnstiles, the Reds almost got off to a dream start when Levi Ives’ dangerous corner delivery carried all the way through to Ryan Curran at the back post but he was unable to steer his header on target. 

At the other end, a speculative attempt from Ahmed Salam clipped the outside of the post on its way wide before Stewart tried his luck from range; Luke McNicholas taking no chances in turning the strike over the top. 

The home side were presented with a great chance to break the deadlock in the closing minutes of the first-half but, having been inadvertently played through by Chris Shields, McDonagh lashed his attempt into the side netting. 

The deadlock was broken just past the hour when Kyle McClean’s foul on Kris Lowe earned a penalty that Ryan Curran stepped up to convert and that looked like being enough to send the Reds through to the decider – even after Christy Manzinga had seen an injury-time header ruled out for offside. 

Linfield kept pushing, however, and were rewarded when McClean stroked home amid a goalmouth scramble with one of the last kicks of the game. 

And so to penalties. Ryan Curran and Chris Shields each converted before Chris Curran’s strike found the net, only for vociferous appeals from the away side leading to it being stricken from the record on account of the taker hitting the ball with both feet. 

Stewart then blazed over to leave it tied at 1-1 after two kicks each, after which disaster struck for the hosts. Chris Gallagher dragged wide, Levi Ives’ slip allowed Walsh to make a save and, with Martin Donnelly having scored prior to Ahmed Salam seeing his attempt repelled, Paul O’Neill had to find the net to keep Cliftonville in it but his tame shot was kept out by Walsh to send the away side through. 

In last night's other semi-final, holders Larne eased into another final with an 8-0 win over Ballyclare. Ronan Hale and Conall Curran grabbed two goals each with Kofi Balmer, Mark Randall, Matty Lusty and Navid Nasseri.

CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas, Ives, C Curran, R Curran, McDonagh (McDermott, 67 mins), Lowe, Addis, Gormley, Turner, Gallagher, Kearns (O’Neill, 81 mins). Unused subs: Dunne, Harney, Foster, Casey, Coates. 

LINFIELD: Walsh, Roscoe-Byrne (McClean, 59 mins), Larkin, Shields, Callacher, Stewart, M Clarke, Donnelly, Salam, A Clarke (Fallon, 74 mins), Archer (Manzinga, 74 mins). Unused subs: Johns, Manzinga, McClean, Fallon, Carroll, Montgomery, Marshall. 

REFEREE: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan) 



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