If you were expecting the semi-finals of the Europa League playoff to be dull and timid displays then you would have been very wrong! The two matches offered up 15 goals in 180 minutes of football as Glenavon overcame Cliftonville and Ballymena United defeated Dungannon Swifts.
Cliftonville 3-5 Glenavon
Cliftonville had the home advantage in their tie against Glenavon, on account of finishing above them in the league, but couldn’t make this count as their poor league form continued.
Glenavon took the early lead through a Rhys Marshall header before Jude Winchester’s long range strike levelled things up for the Reds. Seizing on a shift in momentum, Cliftonville took the lead by way of a superb solo effort from Chris Curran. Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last as the game turned again when Greg Moorhouse headed Glenavon level, the 2-2 score line lasted only two minutes as Jay Donnelly headed home to give Cliftonville the advantage again.
After the break Glenavon surged forward and took aerial advantage yet again when James Singleton headed in the equaliser before another header was scored byJames Gray to give Glenavon the lead for the second time in the match. Andy McGrory finished the scoring by slotting home a penalty to give Glenavon the 5-3 victory – I am doubtful that the fact the fifth goal conceded wasn’t a header was any consolation to the deflated Reds fans.
Ballymena United 5-2 Dungannon Swifts
Ballymena welcomed their Dungannon counterparts to Ballymena Showgrounds thanks to finishing 4th in the league in comparison to Dungannon’s 7th placed finish. Ballymena made fine work of this victory to give them confidence ahead of the final.
Ballymena took a 3rd minute lead through Tony Kane who has proven to be somewhat of a hot shot for them this season, a fortunate bounce helped the ball evade Stuart Addis in the Ballymena goal. Just two minutes later Dungannon were reduced to ten men as Andrew Burns was issued a straight red card for a dangerous tackle. Ballymena doubled their lead through a fine Joe McKinney finish before adding another via a Tony Kane penalty – his 20th goal of the season.
Just after the hour mark Dungannon pulled themselves back into sight of the match with a well hit Kris Lowe shot that Ross Glendinning couldn’t keep out. The hope didn’t last long though as Johnny McMurray restored Ballymena’s three goal advantage after a neat breakaway behind the Dungannon defence. Dungannon managed to score a second through a well-directed Jamie Glackin finish before Kyle Owens put the result beyond doubt by heading in Ballymena’s fifth goal from a corner.
Ballymena United v Glenavon
Ballymena and Glenavon will fight it out in the final for the final Europa League spot. The match will take place on Friday 12th May at 19:45 at the Ballymena Showgrounds – the venue decided by which team finished higher in the regular league season.