Joe Gormley bagged a first-half double to help Cliftonville see off the challenge of Lisburn Distillery 5-1 at Solitude last night.
After a slow start, the Reds climbed through the gears with Gormley netting twice before Jay Donnelly made it 3-0 just past the half-hour.
Caoimhin McConnell marked his debut with a well-taken strike following the interval and, after Francis Dugan pulled one back for the Whites, Conor McMenamin seized on a goalkeeping error to complete the scoring.
It took 21 minutes for the Premiership side to make their breakthrough.
Having been largely frustrated by Distillery’s high pressing game, there was a certain simplicity in their methods with Gormley spraying the ball wide for Thomas Maguire and then picking up the pieces to convert when the young winder delivered possession into the area.
Gormley then blazed wildly off target from a golden position before scoring his second header in as many games – a rare thing indeed – when he was on hand to net when goalkeeper Jonah Nicholl could only parry Donnelly’s low strike.
An underweighted backpass from Alan McMurtry allowed Donnelly to make it 3-0 before half-time.
McConnell added his own name to the scoresheet when he picked his spot in the top corner shortly after the restart.
Matthew Ferguson almost pulled one back for the Whites but, after being denied by Brian Neeson, he steered his rebound over the top with a quarter of an hour left on the clock.
Within a minute, however, substitute Francis Dugan had stolen in to reduce the arrears after a quick free-kick had caught Cliftonville’s defence napping somewhat.
Nicholl’s superb point-blank save stopped Gormley from completing his hat-trick and looked to have ensured there would be no further additions to the scoring.
But, such is the life of a goalkeeper, the Whites stopper would play a key role in the Reds’ fifth when his miskick on the edge of the area allowed McMenamin to dink home a smart finish.
CLIFTONVILLE: Neeson, Breen, Harney, C Curran, McDonald, Bagnall, McConnell, Gormley, J Donnelly, Maguire, A Donnelly. Subs: McGovern, Ives, Garrett, White (for Breen, 62 mins), Catney, Lavery (for McDonald, 62 mins), McMenamin (for J Donnelly, 53 mins).
DISTILLERY: Nicholl, McMurtry, Clarke, Corry, Reid, Wright, O’Hanlon, Harris, Ferguson, McCaw, Young. Subs: Kennedy, Moore, Byrne (for Clarke, 67 mins), Hislop (for Corry, 77 mins), Dugan (for O’Hanlon, 55 mins), Beta.
REFEREE: Ken Gibbons