Cliftonville 3-0 Glenavon
Sports Direct Premiership
Saturday 12th August 2023
Match report by Calum Jones
A lacklustre Glenavon were deservedly beaten 3-0 by Cliftonville at Solitude on Saturday afternoon.
All three goals came in the first half, with captain Joe Gormley breaking the deadlock for the hosts in the sixth minute.
Cliftonville doubled their lead when debutant Sean Stewart poked the ball into the net from close range on 22 minutes.
Gormley grabbed his second and Cliftonville’s third in the 42nd minute, effectively killing the game off before half-time.
In a post-match interview with the BBC, Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton bemoaned the fact that Cliftonville were able to get in behind his side’s defensive line with one ball over the top on a number of occasions, and that was exactly how the Reds grabbed their opener with just six minutes on the clock.
Ronan Doherty launched a clearance upfield from deep in his own half and the race was on between Gormley and Glenavon captain Danny Wallace. Gormley got to the ball first, nodding it into his path with his first touch before deftly lobbing it over goalkeeper Rory Brown and into the net with his second.
The home side threatened again five minutes later when the lively Ben Wilson flashed a low shot wide of Brown’s right-hand post.
Wilson was involved once more in the 16th minute when he delivered a wicked cross from the right which Sean Ward did well to cut out.
The hosts doubled their lead on 22 minutes. Stewart played a one-two with Chris Gallagher on the left flank, receiving the return pass just inside the Glenavon penalty area. The left-back produced a neat piece of skill to nutmeg Ward before slipping the ball inside to Wilson. Brown managed to get something on the forward’s shot, but the ball squirmed underneath the Glenavon goalkeeper and Stewart was able to follow up, nipping in ahead of Wallace to poke the ball over the line from just a few inches out.
Ward prevented the Lurgan Blues from conceding a third goal just three minutes later when he produced another vital interception from a Wilson cross from the right. With Gormley lurking at the back post, it would have been a certain goal but for the veteran’s intervention.
Glenavon’s first meaningful effort of the game came in the 26th minute when Peter Campbell turned and flashed a left-foot shot narrowly over Nathan Gartside’s crossbar.
Two minutes after that shot, Campbell missed a glorious chance to get the Lurgan Blues back into the game. Goalkeeper Gartside was too casual when trying to pass the ball about in the Cliftonville backline, and he came under pressure from Glenavon striker Andrew Mooney. Mooney was able to nick the ball away from Gartside outside the box, and it rolled invitingly for Campbell. The winger’s side-footed effort from the left corner of the penalty area went wide of the far post when it really should have found the open goal.
Aaron Prendergast was introduced as a substitute just before the half-hour mark, and the young striker almost made a telling impact just a few minutes later when he struck a free kick from 20 yards that found the target. Prendergast’s effort was hit well, but Gartside was equal to it, diving to his left to make the save.
Midfielder Tiaran Mulvenna saw his snapshot go wide of goal on 34 minutes, as the Lurgan Blues continued to look more threatening as the first half wore on.
The Cliftonville threat had far from waned, however, and Gallagher played a dangerous ball across the Glenavon box in the 36th minute, but none of his teammates could get on the end of it.
Glenavon had Brown to thank for denying Cliftonville a third goal on 39 minutes. Wilson found himself one-on-one with the Glenavon goalkeeper when he ran onto yet another ball over the top. Brown stood tall and was able to palm away the forward’s shot.
As it turned out, that was only delaying the inevitable, however, as Brown was powerless to prevent the Reds grabbing a third minutes later. Gormley timed a run perfectly between Campbell and Wallace, and the Cliftonville captain was found with a slide-rule through-ball from the impressive Doherty. The master marksman met the pass just inside the box and produced a sublime first-time finish, clipping the ball beyond the onrushing Brown and into the far corner with the outside of his right boot to put the home side out of sight before the half-time whistle had even sounded.
Glenavon had changed their shape in the latter stages of the first half, with Prendergast introduced as a second striker, Isaac Baird dropping into a back three alongside Wallace and Ward, and Campbell and Matthew Snoddy being tasked with operating as wing-backs. Two further substitutions were made at the interval, with Robert Garrett coming on in place of Jack Malone, while Cohen Henderson replaced Jamie Doran.
These tactical changes did succeed in making the Lurgan Blues look less vulnerable at the back, but they rarely looked like getting back into the game in the second half, and if truth be told, Cliftonville appeared content to simply see the game out rather than go in search of more goals in the second period.
That being said, Wilson did nearly have a chance to add a fourth goal five minutes after the restart when Gormley found him with a pass. The forward overran the ball, though, and it went behind for a goal kick.
Prendergast had another pop at goal from a free kick in the 53rd minute for the away side, but he was a lot further out this time, and it was an easy save for Gartside in the end.
Just as it had done in the first half, the best chance of the second period for Glenavon fell to Campbell when he was picked out at the back post from a Prendergast corner two minutes after the hour mark. Campbell brought the ball under control well and his subsequent shot was struck sweetly, but a Cliftonville defender was able to get in the way of it and make a vital block.
Into the last 10 minutes of the game, and Henderson fired a low shot wide on 83 minutes, before Prendergast almost nipped in ahead of Jonathan Addis to grab a goal a minute later, but in the end the Lurgan Blues failed to trouble the scoreboard, with Cliftonville holding on for a comfortable victory in what was their opening match of the campaign.
Hamilton was brutally honest in his assessment of Glenavon’s performance, telling the BBC after the game that his players ‘were miles off it’. The Lurgan Blues boss will be hoping for a dramatic improvement when his side returns to action on Tuesday night (15th August), still in search of their first points of the season. The Mourneview men face yet another challenging fixture, however, as they travel to Windsor Park to take on Linfield. Kick-off will be at 7:45pm.
Cliftonville: 1. Nathan Gartside (GK), 3. Sean Stewart, 4. Jonathan Addis, 6. Christopher Gallagher, 13. Kris Lowe, 14. Jamie Robinson, 17. Ronan Doherty, 19. Joseph Gormley (C), 22. Odhran Casey, 24. Luke Turner, 27. Ben Wilson
Subs: 7. Christopher Curran (for 6. Christopher Gallagher, 67’), 28. Stephen McGuinness (for 3. Sean Stewart, 81’), 29. Jack Berry (for 19. Joseph Gormley, 81’), 2. Conor Pepper (for 17. Ronan Doherty, 90+2’); not used: 23. David Odumosu (GK),11. Jamie McDonagh, 21. Gerard Storey
Goals: 19. Joseph Gormley (6’, 42’), 3. Sean Stewart (22’)
Yellow cards: None
Glenavon: 1. Rory Brown (GK), 3. Aaron Rogers, 7. Matthew Snoddy, 8. Jack Malone, 10. Peter Campbell, 16. Isaac Baird, 19. Andrew Mooney, 22. Tiarnan Mulvenna, 23. Daniel Wallace (C), 24. Jamie Doran, 30. Sean Ward
Subs: 21. Aaron Prendergast (for 3. Aaron Rogers, 29’), 28. Robert Garrett (for 8. Jack Malone, 46’), 34. Cohen Henderson (for 24. Jamie Doran, 46’), 4. Calum Birney (for 30. Sean Ward, 59’), 29. Jackson Nesbitt (for 19. Andrew Mooney, 69’); not used: 2. Conor Kerr, 20. Stephen Teggart
Yellow cards: 16. Isaac Baird (87’)
Referee: Lee Tavinder