Linfield v Cliftonville
This weekend’s ‘Danske Bank Premiership’ action saw the much anticipated matchup between Linfield and reigning champions Cliftonville; going into Saturday’s tie at Windsor, reigning champions Cliftonville were two points behind League leaders Linfield.
Prior to the game the Linfield squad was depleted with influential players out through suspension and injury. The duo of Sean Ward and Philip Lowry both missed the match through suspension, and defender Niall Quinn missed out via injury. Former Northern Ireland International and Hibernian star Ivan Sproule is also a long term casualty and looks likely to be out for the remainder of the season.
The first half action was mostly directed by Cliftonville, with the Belfast based club continually flirting with the Linfield goal, but to no avail. Former Werder Bremen striker Liam Boyce had numerous chances, along with former Crusaders winger Marty Donnelly but failed to make them count. Approaching half time BJ Burns made a determined, strong run from the middle of the pitch and into Cliftonville’s box on the left hand side. The defender skilled his way past two men and nearly pulled the ball back to the waiting McAllister and Waterworth, but the Cliftonville goalkeeper, Devlin dived in to block the effort.
It took only a few minutes of the second half to finally break the deadlock; Chris Curran stole possession from Linfield and linked up with Liam Boyce. The quick counter attack, seen the Cliftonville striker open the scoring with a neat finish into the right hand side of former Inverness keeper Tuffey’s goal. Linfield fought back to try and get back into the game, but it was Cliftonville who scored the second goal, a quick counter attack seen Joe Gormley’s shot parried, his rebound struck the crossbar and it was third time lucky for the striker as his header found the back of the net.
Michael Gault fired in a goal for Linfield but it was no more than a consolation. It turned out a poor day for Linfield as Liam Boyce added to his goal tally and scored his second goal of the game, with seven minutes remaining.
With a final score of 3-1 to Cliftonville, the reigning champions now lead the League Table by a point with only 4 games of the season remaining.
Round-Up of the other Games
At the other end of the table, Ards and Warrenpoint could only muster a draw. The 2-2 result leaves Niall Currie’s men Ards still eight points adrift with just four games remaining. Warrenpoint took the lead twice, firstly through Darren King, and then through a well struck penalty from Marty Havern. Ards twice fought back after going behind through Andy Mitchell, and a penalty of their own 10 minutes from time, the spot kick was scored by James Knowles.
Ballymena United manager Glenn Ferguson made 11 changes to his starting line-up from last week’s win over Glenavon, with next weekend’s Irish Cup semi-final on his mind no doubt. In the end Dungannon took all three points, with a 2-1 win over the side that dumped them out of the Irish Cup. Dungannon took the lead through former Ballymena man Gary Liggett, with Ryan Harpur adding a second. Neal Gawley fired one back for Ballymena in the dying moments of the game.
Elsewhere Ballinamallard boosted their hopes of avoiding a potential relegation play-off as the Fermanagh based side defeated fellow strugglers Coleraine 2-1. Both teams were forced to end the game with 10 men in the closing moments as Coleraine’s Stephen Lowry and Ballinamallard’s David Kee were sent off. Ballinamallard took the lead through Ryan Campbell in the 53rd-minute, Coleraine struck back soon after through midfielder Gareth Tommens. However Ballinamallard took all three points with Richard Lecky’s goal 11 minutes from time. The three points are a much needed boost for Ballinamallard, and the result see’s the club move three points ahead of Warrenpoint, and the relegation play-off spot.
Crusaders defeated Portadown to ensure they remain in third position, five points clear of fourth. Darren Murray put the Portadown ahead on 35 minutes with a close-range finish. However, Gary McCutcheon levelled in first half injury against his former side, before Jordan Owens put Crusaders ahead shortly after the interval. Paul Heatley added a third goal for Crusaders soon after. Full time score: Crusaders 3-1 Portadown.
In the other game played on Saturday, Glenavon leapfrogged Glentoran to move into 5th place on 51 points, thanks in part to a sensational second half. The second half of the match had seen Glenavon score four times, to defeat the Belfast giants 4-0 at the Oval. Tiarnan Mulvenna put Glenavon ahead from the penalty spot on 53 with Mark Patton doubling the lead on 70. Andrew Hoey and Owen McKeown added a goal each in the latter stages of the game. Glenavon next fixture is an Irish Cup semi-final v Crusaders.
Stephen Parkhill, Pundit Arena.