Cliftonville 0-1 Haugesund
Cliftonville slipped to a narrow defeat despite a brave performance against Haugesund this evening.
The only goal of the Europa League First Qualifying Round first leg clash came when captain Christian Grindheim pounced three minutes before the interval – but that didn’t begin to tell the tale of an absorbing Solitude showdown.
The visitors played the final 12 minutes with 10 men following Torbjorn Kallevag’s dismissal for a high tackle on Conor McDermott, however it’s arguable they could have been a man light much earlier with Ibrahima Kone lucky to only receive a booking for a poor challenge on Levi Ives – and the fact the Malian striker was substituted soon later indicated that Haugesund boss Jostein Grindhaug knew his frontman was walking a disciplinary tightrope, having previously clashed with Liam Bagnall and Garry Breen.
Both sides went close to breaking the deadlock early on, with Joe Gormley flashing an effort over the top for the Reds before Kone looked to have put the visitors in front only for McDermott to produce a quite unbelievable goal-line block to divert the ball onto the post before goalkeeper Richard Brush gathered.
Cliftonville’s best chance came just past the half-hour mark when McDermott’s cross picked out an unmarked Chris Curran, who headed agonisingly wide of the target.
As the contest ticked towards the interval, Haugesund took the lead when Grindheim stroked home an inviting delivery from Mikkel Desler and they might have made it 2-0 early in the second-half only for Niklas Sandberg’s free-kick to bring a smart save out of Brush.
Thereafter, the Reds began to show a little more belief in themselves and, playing higher up the park, saw a Conor McMenamin cross collected by keeper Helge Sandvik before Ives sent an attempt wide of the mark.
Ryan Curran almost made an immediate impact after emerging from the bench when he threaded a neat ball to McMenamin, whose delivery saw Donnelly plant a header into Sandvik’s grasp.
On 70 minutes, a looping McDermott cross was miscued high into the sky by a Haugesund defender, with Donnelly doing well to test Sandvik and win a corner when possession dropped into a crowded penalty area, but the striker was left cursing himself three minutes later when he failed to make a proper connection with Ives’ cross from the left.
Soon later, the Norwegians were reduced to 10 men when Kallevag’s high challenge on McDermott earned a predictable dismissal, after which Haugesund were content to see the game out by slowing proceedings down at every available opportunity.
Even so, there was still time for an Ives free-kick to draw a save from Sandvik before, in injury-time, McMenamin’s clipped corner delivery was glanced just wide by Ronan Doherty with what proved to be Cliftonville’s final opportunity to snatch an equaliser.
Cliftonville: Brush, McDermott, Ives, Breen, C Curran, R Donnelly, Bagnall, Doherty, Gormley, McMenamin, Gorman. Subs: Dunne, Harney, Harkin, R Curran (for C Curran, 66 mins), Foster, Wilson, Maguire (for Gorman, 86 mins).