Paddy McLaughlin’s Reds were blown away by a scintillating first-half showing from the Glens, ignited by a classic strike from English-born Junior and a delicious double from Bobby Burns, who took his goal tally for the season to 10.
The result moved Glentoran up to third-place in the Danske Bank Premiership table, but they still trail cross-town rivals Linfield by five points, so automatic qualification — which accompanies second-spot — is still a big ask for the east Belfast institution.
Junior got the show on the road in 19 minutes. He gobbled up a pass from Luke McCullough and held off challenges from Odhran Casey and Jonny Addis before producing a smart finish.
Burns then struck after the half-hour, drilling into the bottom corner before walloping home a sizzler seconds before the break.
“I thought Junior was fantastic,” purred McAree.
“He’s had to be patient since he arrived at the club in January. The thing about Junior is when he played against Linfield on Wednesday night, it was the first time he had started a game since September.
“He hasn’t had a pile of game time — he’s had little bits and pieces coming off the bench, which isn’t easy. In some of those games, he did well; in some he was poor.
“We see a lot of things in training to convince us there is a player in him. He’s quick, strong, wants to create chances and wants to score goals. I was really, really pleased for him. It’s been a frustrating time for him and he’s had to be patient.
“He was probably thinking ‘when am I ever getting an opportunity’? He got one against Linfield and I think he grasped it. He must try and hold onto it and keep turning in performances.
“He’s a real nice lad to have around the place and the boys have taken to him. There is a trick or two in him as well, which pleased the crowd on several occasions — they are really warming to him.”
McAree insists his boys will keep battling even though the odds are now stacked against them nailing down second-place in the table.
“It’s going to be difficult with two games to go and five points between us,” he added.
“All we have to do is focus on our next game and try to win that one.
“If we don’t win that one, it becomes irrelevant. We must look after our own performance.”
Cliftonville boss McLaughlin delegated assistant Declan O’Hara to try and explain the team’s woeful showing.
“It was an embarrassment,” he fumed.
“Once we considered the first goal, we collapsed. You could see the heads go down.
“We knew right away it would happen. We’ve been on to the boys all season about it, but it just keeps happening. If I’m right, that’s 48 goals we’ve considered in the League this season.
“That can’t happen, not at this level. It’s not good enough, there were a few home truths and a few harsh words said in the changing room afterwards.
“It was a tough one to take. Four or five weeks ago, we were still challenging for the League title, now we are sitting fourth and well out of it.
“We need to take a look at ourselves collectively, the coaching staff and the players.”
GLENTORAN: McCarey 7, McCullough 7, Burns 8, Marshall 7 (Crowe, 77 min, 5), Singleton 7, Devlin 6, Murphy 7, McMenamin 7 (Walsh, 85 min, 5), Wightman 7 (Smith, 85 min, 5) , McGinn 7 (R Donnelly, 69 min, 5), Junior 7 (Purkis, 77 min, 5).
Unused subs: Webber, J Donnelly.
CLIFTONVILLE:G Doherty 6, Addis 5 (Coates, 46 min, 6), Gallagher 6, C Curran 6 (Moore, 46 min, 5), Rory Hale 5, R Curran 5 (Gormley, 46 min, 5), McDonagh 6, R Doherty 6, Casey 5, Turner 5, Ronan Hale 6 (Berry, 83 min, 5).
Unused subs: Gartside, Ives, Robinson.
Referees: Marshall Team (Irvinestown) 6