Europa League play-offs: Glentoran beat Linfield and Cliftonville see off Ballymena

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Glentoran battle back to beat Linfield in Europa play-off

Glentoran produced a stunning comeback to come from 2-0 down to beat Linfield 4-3 in Wednesday's Europa League play-off semi-final at Windsor Park.

The Glens will face Cliftonville in Saturday's final at Solitude after the Reds saw off Ballymena United 4-0.

Kevin Braniff was sent-off in the first half, with Jay Donnelly and Joe Gormley scoring two apiece in the second half.

The match is a repeat of the decider of two years ago, with 240,000 euro up for grabs for the winner of the final.

The outcome of the semi-final at the National Stadium means that Linfield fail to qualify for European club football for the first time in 15 years.

The defeat completes a miserable season for David Healy's side, who only 12 months ago were revelling in an Irish League and Irish Cup double.

The Blues suffered 15 domestic defeats during the 2017-18 campaign, eight of those reverses coming on their home ground.

Elliott Morris saved well from Andrew Waterworth early on, while at the other end, Marcus Kane squandered a glorious opportunity when he skewed an effort wide of the post.

Cliftonville's Jay Donnelly in action against Ballymena defender Kofi Balmer
Cliftonville's Jay Donnelly in action against Ballymena defender Kofi Balmer

Byrne turned and shot low past Morris to open the scoring in the 26th minute and Waterworth made it 2-0 five minutes after the break when he reacted quickest to fire home from six yards out after Morris had saved Stephen Lowry's initial shot.

The visitors threw themselves a lifeline just after the hour mark, substitute Dylan Davidson netting from the penalty spot after Jimmy Callacher had tugged Curtis Allen's shirt inside the area.

John McGuigan equalised with a terrific curling shot into the top corner past teenage goalkeeper Alex Moore soon after, then Willie Garrett headed in his second of the season on 79 minutes and Allen added the Glens' fourth, blasting in six minutes from time.

Allen only received clearance to play for the Glens, without a permanent manager and with Ronnie McFall still in temporary charge, late in the afternoon following a successful appeal against a red card.

Stephen Fallon drove home a consolation for the hosts in the final minute after meeting Kirk Millar's cross.

Glentoran, who finished seventh in the Premiership, 16 points behind their Belfast derby rivals, now have the chance to qualify for European competition for the first time in four years, having lost out to the Reds in the final two years ago.

Losing Irish Cup finalists bounce back

Beaten Irish Cup finalists Cliftonville suffered a setback prior to kick-off when Garry Breen was injured in the pre-match warm-up and his place in the starting team was taken by Shane Grimes, with Aaron Donnelly coming onto the bench.

Gormley went close with a header in the early stages before United striker Kevin Braniff was sent-off by referee Raymond Crangle for a second bookable offence in the 31st minute.

Ross Glendinning denied Chris Curran before the interval and after the resumption Gormley fired inches wide, Jamie Harney headed off-target and Rory Donnelly missed two great chances, unable to convert from a couple of yards out and then failing to connect with Gormley's inviting cross.

Jay Donnelly eventually broke the deadlock with a composed finish after 67 minutes and added his second on 81.

Gormley's side-footed strike extended the home side's advantage and the prolific striker netted his 33rd of the season in the dying minutes with a curling right-foot shot into the top corner.

Disappointment for Ballymena who qualified for the Europa League last season by beating Glenavon in the play-off final, Braniff scoring the winning goal.

The winners of Saturday's tie will join Irish Cup winners Coleraine and Glenavon, who finished third in the Irish Premiership, as the Irish League's representatives in the draw for the Europa League qualifiers on 19 June.

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