Easter Tuesday saw the Irish League host a full playing schedule, with all 12 teams in action.
Portadown v Cliftonville
Cliftonville went to Shamrock Park sitting top of the league, knowing that a win would more or less guarantee them the title, due to a three-point advantage over challengers Linfield, with the addition of a much superior goal difference. Additionally bettering Linfield’s result on the day would guarantee the title was theirs mathematically as well.
“Good teams win the league once, great teams go on to win it again.”
Cliftonville managed to retain the League title for the first time in their history, thanks to a solid 2-0 victory over Portadown, thus ending Portadown’s hopes of a third place finish in the process.
Portadown went into the game in the knowledge that they were the only team Cliftonville had failed to defeat so far this season and Ronnie McFall’s Portadown side enjoyed the better of the first half chances. David Miskelly was forced to save well from Joe Gormley early on while, whilst for Portadown Sean Mackle side-footed a volley over the bar from a Gary Breen flick-on. Former Shamrock Rovers striker, Gary Twigg then had a headed chance but Cliftonville defender Ronan Scannell did enough to put him off and prevent a certain goal.
The second half seen the Solitude based outfit lift their game, most likely motivated by the chance of silverware, and Curran broke the deadlock after good work by Cliftonville captain George McMullan. Portadown had a chance to equalise but defender Chris Casement, seen his free-kick strike the woodwork. Cliftonville put Portadown to the sword and finished the game, with substitute Stephen Garrett converting a Martin Murray cross, five minutes before the end of time.
Cliftonville Manager Tommy Breslin had the following to say after the game;
“It feels great – I was always confident we would win it and it is even better than last year.”
“It’s a squad game and everyone has contributed and put a shift in. I’m delighted for everyone involved with the club.”
The victory over Portadown see’s Cliftonville enjoy a six-point lead over the Blues with only Saturday’s set of fixtures remaining.
Final Score – Portadown 0-2 Cliftonville
Linfield v Glentoran
Linfield’s crashed to a disastrous 2-0 defeat at home to arch rivals Glentoran, resulting in their already slim chances of winning the league being eradicated. With his resignation announced several weeks ago, David Jeffrey was taking charge in what was his final home game as Linfield manager and last Big Two derby as figurehead of the Windsor Park side.
The first half seen Linfield dominate the game with the majority of the possession, but it was Glentoran who had the clearer cut chances. Kym Nelson had an early shot, but it flew well over the Linfield goal. John McGuigan tested former Inverness keeper Tuffey, with an awkward rifled volley from a tight angle about 20 yards out but Jonny Tuffey desperately dived to make a smart stop and keep the visitors out.
With just over twenty minutes played Linfield should’ve went ahead as Lowry scuffed a close-range volley over the bar when a good connection would’ve certainly resulted in a goal; from a corner, Carvill put the ball into the danger zone and Mark Haughey did well to head the ball across goal. As the ball fell to the unmarked Phillip Lowry, he volleyed over, under pressure from Glentoran defenders. Former Glentoran striker, Andy Waterworth also drifted a shot wide as the teams went in level at the break.
Linfield had a chance to establish the lead in the second half through Michael Carvill, but the Linfield star’s shot was parried by Morris with nobody capitalising on the rebound. Linfield were made to pay in the 59th minute when Glentoran took the lead through Danny McKee. Glentoran goalkeeper, Elliot Morris lofted a long punt up the middle with Danny McKee running on to it, from around 16 yards, the Glentoran forward made no mistake, slotting coolly past the on-rushing Jonathan Tuffey.
Linfield sensed that the title was now really slipping from their grasp and tried to respond through Ross Clarke and Waterworth though Morris was equal to both efforts, before Haughey rose highest from a corner kick but couldn’t direct his header goalwards.
Glentoran sealed their second goal, and the victory in 85th minute, when a cross in to the box found James Stewart, who nodded into the bottom corner.
Final Score – Linfield 0-2 Glentoran
Glenavon v Crusaders
Irish Cup finalists Glenavon hosted a Crusaders side on the hunt for European football next season. Thanks to Cliftonville winning against Portadown, Crusaders knew victory would seal a 3rd place finish and an opportunity to play some part in Europe next season. The Hatchetman manage to defeat Glenavon 3-1, with goals from the returning Caddell, and former Ballymena players, Hanley and McCutcheon.
Cusaders started the game superbly when Paul Heatley returning from suspension, fed Declan Caddell, who coolly slotted home in the first minute, to give Crusaders a 1-0 lead. Heatley then appeared to have twisted an ankle and was replaced by Nathan Hanley after 11 minutes. Hanley added the second goal of the game, early in the second half. Fellow substitute Jordan Owens had seen his initial header rebound back off the crossbar, before former Linfield man Hanley was there to convert the rebound.
It was soon to be 3-0 when in the 59th minute, McCutcheon laid the ball out to McMaster and continued his run into the box to receive the return pass and the Scottish striker stroked the ball low into the corner from about 12 yards.
Glenavon managed to score a mere consolation goal, 8 minutes from time when the referee awarded Glenavon a penalty in the 82nd minute. The penalty was dispatched high into the net by Andy McGrory.
The Crusaders victory, means that the Belfast side are guaranteed to finish 3rd this season, securing European football next season. For Glenavon it represents their 3rdstraight defeat, not ideal preparation for an Irish Cup final on May 3rd.
Final Score – Glenavon 1-3 Crusaders
Ards v Coleraine
Bottom of the table Ards, hosted Coleraine at Clandeboye Park. The game looked to be finishing stalemate until former Limavady man, Paul Owens struck an injury time winner for Coleraine, eliminating their slim chances of relegation this season.
Ards had two opportunities to take the lead in the first half, when Neil Dougan twice went close. Dougan flashed a shot wide in the first half before he failed to connect with a cross at the backpost. The basement club almost had a further chance to go ahead when Ross Arthurs hit a post, but alas it wasn’t to be when Owens found the net with a sweet strike in the dying seconds of the match.
Earlier in the game Coleraine midfielder Ruairi Harkin had the chance to give the Bannsiders the lead, but his shot was well saved by Ards keeper Graeme McKibben.
The result leaves Coleraine in 9th position, 2 points off 8th placed Dungannon.
Ards are currently waiting on Championship results to find out what league they will be playing in next season. Institute defeated Carrick Rangers 2-1 to ensure at least a Premiership promotion/relegation play-off place, If Institute finish top after the final games on Saturday they will be promoted while a second place finish will secure a play-off with Ards.
Final Score – Ards 0-1 Coleraine
Ballinamallard v Dungannon
Failure to win the match seen Ballinamallard United slip down the table to 11th after a 2-2 draw with Dungannon at Ferney Park.
The first chance of the game fell to Dungannon Swifts, but Jamie Tomelty seen his shot blocked by Feargal Murphy. The Mallards soon after had their first chance of the game which arrived after quarter of an hour, when good play between Liam Martin and Ryan Campbell set the latter up for a chance on goal, but his shot was sliced shot wide of the target. Gary Liggett had a chance for the Swifts but his header hit the side netting.
It was a rather dull first half; however the opening goal of the game arrived on 37 minutes. Jason McCartney headed the ball into the far corner of the Swifts goal after a cross from Liam Martin.
Dungannon managed to grab an equaliser, soon after the half time interval. 52 minutes were on the clock, when Dungannon substitute Matt Hazley levelled the score, with a fine curled free kick past the outstretched hand of the Ballinamallard keeper.
The second half was packed with action in comparison to the first half, and the frantic action continued with two goals in two minutes. It was the visitors that took the lead on 58 minutes when Aaron Burns looping header crossed the line, before Liam Martin scored at the other end with a neat curling effort past Turker.
The game finished 2-2 but Dungannon came close to clinching all three points with Gary Liggett’s headed effort cleared off the line before and Aaron Burns spurned a great opportunity when he shot wide.
Final Score – Ballinamallard 2-2 Dungannon
Warrenpoint v Ballymena
Warrenpoint finished their penultimate game of the season with a victory at home to Irish Cup hopefuls Ballymena. It was a good day all round for Warrenpoint as their top-flight status was secured when Championship results ensured they would not face a possible relegation play-off.
It was a frustrating first half for Daniel Hughes, his shot striking a post after seven minutes before he squandered good chances. However Daniel Hughes finally got the goal, netting for the 13th time this season, after 62 minutes with a fine 20-yard finish after good work from Stephen Hughes. His second half strike sealed the victory in a narrow win, over the Irish Cup finalists.
In a disappointing result for Ballymena, they still created chances with Darren Boyce heading over in the first half, Alan Teggart testing the Warrenpoint keeper Parr with a shot and Ballymena skipper Allan Jenkins also heading over the bar.
Final Score – Warrenpoint 1-0 Ballymena
Steven Parkhill, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Fasach Nua at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.