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Battle lines drawn

Cliftonville 1-1 Linfield

Cliftonville were pegged back as Linfield rescued a draw from an ill-tempered Danske Bank Premiership scrap at Solitude this afternoon.

Each of the Reds’ domestic outings to date this season has delivered late drama and today’s battle proved no different as Blues substitute Michael O’Connor pounced to scuff home an equaliser that cancelled out Joe Gormley’s headed opener.

With neither team needing any second invitation to get torn in from the first whistle, a dismissal always seemed likely and it was Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew who saw red when referee Arnold Hunter sent him on his way for a fierce challenge on Jay Donnelly.

Cliftonville eventually made their numerical advantage count when Gormley squeezed a header past visiting goalkeeper Roy Carroll with a quarter of an hour remaining but, as the clock ticked down, the Blues hit back when O’Connor’s touch proved sufficient to ensure the spoils would be shared.

The first flashpoint of a feisty encounter came after just six minutes when Ryan Catney’s challenge on Daniel Kearns earned a booking for the Reds midfielder, with the same punishment meted out to skipper Chris Curran and Linfield striker Andy Waterworth for their roles in the skirmish which followed.

Good work from Levi Ives stopped Waterworth getting a shot away from close range before Gormley tested his luck with a wayward effort from distance.

On 25 minutes, a defensive mix-up allowed Kearns to navigate a route to goal only for Jamie Harney’s heroic block to clear the danger and, from the resulting corner, the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Mulgrew’s attempt to recycle possession into the area produced a dangerous challenge on Donnelly and earned the Blues skipper a straight red card.

The rest of the first-half delivered little of note, save for Linfield keeper’s Roy Carroll brazen time-wasting that included a momentary claim to have been knocked out cold by the most delicate of touches from Gormley, who was ludicrously booked for his role in the farce, which included Carroll being treated to some inexplicable treatment from the visiting physiotherapy team.

Early in the second period, Donnelly planted a header over the top before Conor McDonald’s effort from a narrow angle was blocked and Catney saw a powerful blasy deflected just wide. The corner that followed saw Garry Breen denied by a Jimmy Callacher block ahead of Harney being unable to generate sufficient force into a header from just a few yards out.

Breen headed straight at Carroll before the deadlock was finally broken when Jaimie McGovern’s throw-in was eventually controlled by Donnelly, whose hanging cross invited Gormley to rise and nod a back-post header into the top corner.

Unfortunately, the Reds were unable to build on their lead and were punished for sitting back when Andy Mitchell’s cross from the right was stabbed in by O’Connor with just five minutes left on the clock.

Even so, there was still time for both teams to go close to winning it; Gormley’s low drive being touched behind for a corner before Richard Brush got down well to gather a Joel Cooper strike.

Cliftonville: Brush, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Harney, C Curran, Garrett, McDonald (McMenamin, 77 mins), Catney, Gormley, J Donnelly. Unused subs: Neeson, White, Bagnall, Lavery, Maguire, McMenamin, A Donnelly.

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