It’s play-off time in Northern Ireland as this week we had the second leg of the Premiership promotion/relegation play-off between Carrick and Newry as well as the semi-finals of the European play-offs with Cliftonville, Linfield, Glentoran and Ballymena battling it out to see who gets the last European spot to compete in next seasons Europa League. We start at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena.
Carrick Rangers 1 Newry City 3 (Newry City win 6-3 on aggregate)
Newry finished off the job they had started at the Newry Showgrounds on Friday night with what in the end was a convincing win against a disappointing Carrick Rangers side. This was Newry’s fourth promotion in five years since the original club was wound up, a remarkable achievement and myself, and I’m sure the rest of the team at Over The Turnstile, congratulate all the players, coaches, supporters and volunteers. The game was slow to get going, much if the game was played in the Carrick half with Newry having plenty of possession but not really threatening. Carrick’s night and possibly even their season was summed up when on a rare venture forward two of their players collided when going for the same ball. It was actually the home side who took the lead in the 29th minute when Paddy McNally finished past Newry ‘keeper Steven Maguire following a free-kick. Newry were back on level terms, and ahead again on aggregate, before half-time, McNally was harshly adjudged to have fouled Mark McCabe inside the area and Stephen Hughes beat ‘keeper Harry Doherty from the spot. Carrick did almost regain the lead before the break but Mark Edgar’s free-kick hit the crossbar and ten minutes into the second-half McCabe put Newry ahead on the night and gave them a two goal cushion overall in the tie. Carrick did push hard for an equaliser but with fifteen minutes to go Newry sealed the win when from a counter the ball came to Mark Hughes with plenty of space on the left and he beat Doherty with the ball nestling in the Carrick net. Carrick’s three year stay in the Championship is now over and they make the drop down into the Championship next season, and with Portadown, the Welders, Ballyclare, Ballinamallard and a rejuvenated Larne already in the division they may find an immediate return a tough ask.
Cliftonville 4 Ballymena United 0
Meanwhile in Belfast Cliftonville bounced back from Saturday’s Irish Cup final disappointment by moving one step closer to Europa League football next season as they took on Ballymena at Solitude. The first talking point of the game came in the 31st minute when United’s Kevin Braniff, playing what turned out to be his last game for the club as it was confirmed on Wednesday he has signed for Portadown, was sent off for his yellow card. Cliftonville began to make their one man advantage count but it was well into the second half before they finally found a way past Ross Glendenning, Jay Donnelly scoring in the 67th minute to put the Reds 1-0 ahead. Donnelly added his and Cliftonville’s second goal of the game in the 81st minute and Joe Gormley scored a brace of his own before full-time to secure Cliftonville’s place in tomorrow’s final.
Linfield 3 Glentoran 4
The highest scoring game of the night was at Windsor Park when arch-rivals Linfield and Glentoran met with Ed Sheeran performing just a few hundred yards down the road. Both of these sides have had poor seasons, Linfield in particular look a far cry from the team that were celebrating a league and cup double a year ago. Despite that most people will have had Linfield down as favourites and won’t have been surprised to see them 2-0 up by the 51st minute thanks to Kurtis Byrne and Andrew Waterworth goals. Glentoran though came roaring back and scored their first goal of the game in the 61st minute through a Dylan Davidson penalty after Curtis Allen had been fouled and three minutes later John McGuigan equalised. Glentoran edged themselves in front in the 79th minute when Willie Garrett headed home a Ross Redman free-kick and Allen added goal number four five minutes later. Stephen Fallon scored a third for the Blues in added time but it is Glentoran who Cliftonville will face in tomorrow’s final at Solitude. It will be an interesting few weeks for both of those clubs, Glentoran are already in the market for a new manager and with a fourth place finish, no trophies and no European football for Linfield it’s not beyond the realms of the imagination that they could be looking out for a new face in the dugout as well.
The play-offs are not over just yet, as mentioned above, tomorrow Cliftonville host Glentoran in the European play-off final and tonight Queens host Dergview in the first-leg of the Championship promotion/relegation play-off.