Monday, 31 October 2016

29/10/16 Review: Cliftonville vs Glenavon

Cliftonville 3-0 Glenavon (Northern Irish Premier League)

Day Two, Belfast. Last night's cracker in Dundalk was over now and after a couple of hours kip and a full Irish brekkie courtesy of the delightful Krakow B'n'B to soak up some of the Guinness hangover suffered from the celebrations of Dundalk's title-crowning victory, we were now headed for the train station which would drive us up to the capital city of Northern Ireland to seek out more football. Today's destination would be the oldest club in Ireland, Cliftonville.

The idea for the "quiet coach" was made in Dundalk according to folk-law
The journey from the top of the Republic of Ireland over the border was fairly swift, meaning that we would arrive with plenty of time to mooch around the city and maybe even drop off at a local pub- we were on holiday after all! It would then be time to jump on a bus out of town into the outskirts region of Cliftonville. The first signs when we drifted out of the centre were that this area of town was not particularly one for the tourists (apart from us, obviously!) and amongst the odd Celtic or Manchester United themed Barbers we passed, there was also a vast amount of stunningly artistic graffiti to show that Cliftonville were a bunch filled with pride for their beliefs and also the football club. Being the oldest and one of the most successful clubs in the country, the Reds have had their fair share of glory and even a few European ventures over the years and in a similar way to clubs like Milwall and Leeds United they have sometimes been given a bad name by other rivalling clubs/territories. Baring this in mind, we were somewhat cautious when the first sight after departing the bus was a heavy-duty armoured police van parading the streets an hour before kick-off.
Some people just hang a flag out of the window, not these guys
After stopping for a glance around the surrounding streets, we headed straight for Solitude to weigh up the situation regarding a pre-match pint in the clubhouse. From the outside, Solitude looks like a big red factory nestled in amongst a surround of houses, and the street which hosted the entrance door was only notable a the way in because of the security and police officers standing outside it. Knowing that we were early, we took a punt and asked if we could pop in to the clubhouse, to which a very friendly chap in his Reds tracksuit pointed us in the right direction. The very darkened clubhouse was populated by a couple of dozen locals who were enjoying the Arsenal vs Sunderland match that was coming towards an end. Scouting around we saw some folk in Celtic gear, a few Manchester United fans, the odd St. Pauli top and various Cliftonville and NI garments spread amongst. I also was quick to spot a TNS scarf pinned up behind the bar, which is quite nice as that would prove to be our destination for the next day.

Ready to cheer the Reds on
At this point, wearing our rucksacks and sporting odd, non-Irish scarves, we obviously stood out as Ground-hoppers, so much so that one chap approached Tom and without any greeting just asked "where are you lads from?" before having a chat with him. I think it's safe to say that many others have visited this relic of a ground in search of the beautiful game. Not everybody was in high-spirits though, and the chap who sold me a programme seemed very downbeat about his beloved side's chances- predicting that the away side would probably sneak a 0-1 win this afternoon. I, on the other hand, was feeling optimistic for the home side and had made a pre-match prediction of 2-0 to the home team. (Tom went for 0-0, just as he did last night and also for the TNS game- he loves a good bore draw!)
Time to get back outside to the foggy Belfast skies
From the inside we were instantly greeted by another 3G-pitch and with a nip in the air on this late-October evening you could see why teams would make the switch. Undoubtedly the main attraction of Solitude was the 60+ year-old two-tiered stand that formed a large section of the ground's seating. With faded multicoloured seats across the top-tier and a selection of further stalls underneath, this was the main stand which sits to the left of the Cage End stand and to the right of the away stand. A true thing of beauty in the eyes of football grounds.

It'll be sad to see it demolished
Anyway, enough of that- on to the football. With a 4th vs 6th clash on the cards for today's Danske Bank Premiership match and the game was underway. Well, not really. The game never really got going in the first-half unfortunately and crowd were as quiet as I'd seen for a long time. Other than Daniel Hughes crashing a shot against the post for the hosts and the away side whacking a free-kick on to the woodwork too, it was far from up to the electric pace that we'd seen in our game last night at Oriel Park. With half-time closing in on us quickly, the only real talking point amongst the fans was the often terrible refereeing decisions and the even worse calls from his linesman on our left-hand side. One fan summed up these actions perfectly as he screamed out "YA FECKIN' EEJIT!" and with that, it was half-time.

Closest chance of the half, 0-0
We had a bit of a walk around during the break, but did not venture too far on this occasion. Tom had already purchased a bobble hat and we had both demolished a burger before the match started. We instead spent the majority of HT admiring the now fog-ridden skyline that revealed a very nice backdrop over the away stand.

The stand that we were sitting in behind the goal, Cage End, was a perfect stand in my opinion. With a steep rise allowing for a very good view about two-thirds of the way up, we were now just hoping to see a bit more decent football before rushing back to Dublin airport. And surprise, surprise, the game came to life. Within the opening 10 minutes of the second-half both sides came close on more than one occasion. Glenavon had a decent counter attack and they came close to the opener when a shot was fired at the Reds goalie. They then almost took another counter attack into the net as they looked likely to grab what would be a crucial opening goal in this tightly contested affair. Amongst the Gleanavon attacks there was a near-miss for the Blues at the other end as they almost crumbled at the back. A poorly weighted back-pass oh so nearly let the Cliftonville striker in and this moment obviously got the ground's tannoy announcer a bit too excited. As the ball was eventually cleared away from goal, the goal celebration music was prematurely blasted out which had us in fits of laughter- we love a good technical error! It would be Cliftonville though who would have the next laugh, with the opening goal. A set-piece came to the home-side and after a well-worked short-taken corner was eventually whipped into the box, it would be club captain Jason McGuinness who nodded home with a bullet header and finally gave us something to shout about. Cliftonville 1-0 Glenavon. This sparked the game into life, and within two minutes of the first goal we would see the lead doubled for the Reds. From 25-yards out, Ruairi Harkin hit an ambitious striker which took a very slight deflection off of a Blues defender before flying into the back of the net. Cliftonville 2-0 Glenavon.

Game, set and match for the Red Army?
The home-side were firmly in control now and when the substitute Davy McDaid came on he injected a final bit of energy into the game to complete a good result. He should have had a shot on goal in the 70th minute when he was found in good space from 20-yards out. On this occasion he fired over the bar, but this would not dampen his spirits as he looked the most likely to finish the game off. His next chance would prove to be one that came as a metaphorical "strikers dream" as he was handed a chance by the opposition. On 75 minutes a ball came in from the wing and Kris Lindsay simply chested the ball down without realising the McDaid was on the prowl. He swiftly waltzed in and popped in the crucial third goal that the Reds needed to gather up the eventually deserved three points. Cliftonville 3-0 Glenavon.

And that, as they say, was that
Cliftonville ended the game in a dominant fashion, playing some stunning football into the final 10 minutes. There would to be no more goals, though, and the ref called time on the day's action. With a flight to catch in just under 5 hours, we scooted off straight away and made a dash for the bus back into town. Despite a poor first-half we walked away very happy to have seen a Wonder of Northern Irish Football in Solitude's Main Stand, and also a few goals in a decent second-half. Two games, two 3-goal margin victories for the home sides so far, and with TNS up next we were pleased at the two games we'd seen so far. Stay tuned for my account of Park Hall tomorrow.

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