|The 3-0 win that we chalked up at Holm Park on Tuesday meant that this evening's return leg was always going to be something of a damp-squib in comparison. There was very much a "Job done" feeling about the place and I can only assume that the reasonable crowd which made its way to Solitude did so to bid Mickey Donnelly farewell after 617 appearances for the club rather than with any expectancy of Armagh to pull off a shock.
Donnelly was not deemed fit enough to claim a starting place but was still able to wear his famous number 11 shirt, with starter Ciaran McMullan taking number 15.
To my own surprise, our players signalled their intent early and created an immediate chance directly as a result of dispossessing Armagh after the visitors had kicked-off. James Quigley barged in with a challenge, McMullan pressed down the wing and crossed into the area where both Anto Crawford and Nathan McConnell were mere inches away from making contact.
Both frontmen were again in the thick of things soon after when Crawford played a fantastic pass to his fellow striker only to see him incorrectly flagged for offside.
Undeterred, the Reds kept going and Anto - looking for his 15th goal of the season - came close to breaking the deadlock but his first-time effort whistled past the post and into the side-netting.
With the pressure on Armagh's rearguard verging on the constant, it seemed only a matter of time before Cliftonville took the lead and the goal our play deserved duly arrived on 25 minutes - but from the mst unlikely of sources!
After a rare venture forward from the visitors, goalkeeper Paul Straney claimed the ball and launched a kick high upfield and, to the amazement of everyone in the ground, looked on as the bounce deceived his opposite number and ended up in the back of the net.
True, there was a more than a hint of a deflection off a defender but when you've got Paul Straney dancing a jig of delight in front of jubilant home fans who's going to tell him that it's not his goal?
Unfortunately, less than two minutes later Straney was involved in a nasty - but completely accidental - clash with Armagh striker Ciaran Feehan which saw the former Reds' favourite stretchered off with what looked like a broken leg.
City equalised on the stroke of half-time through Alan Murphy after the mother of all goalmouth scrambles and the Armagh fans were happy to celebrate the fact that they had at least scored a goal.
The second period? Dire. The tie was won and both teams knew it and, with the home fans growing restless for the introduction of Donnelly, there was little action of the pitch to which our attention was drawn.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of waiting, Mickey took to the field to a standing ovation from both sets of fans and slotted into his familiar central defensive role. Every touch was cheered and, when he danced round one of their forwards, the noise grew louder.
Though not as loud as the noise which greeted his substitution (less than ten minutes after coming on) and, after the final whistle whoch confirmed our place in the top flight, both teams gave Captain Fantastic a guard of honour as he left the Solitude pitch for the last time. A good night and a sad night rolled into one, but here's hoping that Mickey sees out his ambition to return to the club as manager one day in the future.
George McMullan [Quigley]
Mickey Donnelly [O'Hara]
Cormac Brannigan [Donnelly]
|Cliftonville -1-v-1- Armagh City|
|Friday 7th May 2004, Solitude|