Cliftonville’s winning run came to a halt at the hands of Ballymena United in this afternoon’s Danske Bank Premiership encounter at The Showgrounds.
While grateful to goalkeeper Brian Neeson for a brace of smart stops, the Reds edged the first-half only for an injury to Jay Donnelly to knock them out of their stride just before the interval.
The hosts didn’t take long to capitalise with firstly Cathair Friel and then Steven McCullough finding the net and, though substitute Conor McDonald reduced the arrears in the closing stages, United held on to take all three points.
Cliftonville came close to opening the scoring after just five minutes when a corner wasn’t properly cleared by the home defence with the ball coming off Friel before being cleared on the line by Leroy Millar.
United keeper Thomas McDermott was called into action after a quarter-of-an-hour to impressively deny a Joe Gormley effort while, at the other end, Neeson did well to deny Andy McGrory.
Rory Donnelly then fired a right-foot drive just past the far post, while Jay Donnelly took the ball past a couple of defenders before curling a shot straight at McDermott.
Both sides might have edged in front during the closing moments of the first half. Levi Ives skimmed the post with a free-kick while Ballymena did have the ball in the net but it was ruled out after the referee spotted an handball offence.
But the deadlock was broken three minutes after the break. A Jonny Addis pass cut open the Cliftonville defence allowing Friel through to finish powerfully past Neeson.
Friel then sent an effort from distance just over before being later denied by a superb reflex stop by diving Neeson, who managed to tip the ball away for a corner.
The Sky Blues doubled their advantage with around a quarter-of-an-hour remaining courtesy of McCullough’s left-foot which unleashed a free-kick into the top corner.
Cliftonville hit back a few minutes after that through McDonald with a close range touch after Gormley had crossed from the left but it proved to be too late in the game to spark a revival, despite both Garry Breen and Jamie Harney going close with headers.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, C Curran, R Curran, R Donnelly, Catney, Gormley, J Donnelly, Lavery. Subs: Harney (Lavery, 67 mins), Garrett, McDonald (C Curran, 67 mins), Bagnall, Maguire, McMenamin (J Donnelly, 39 mins), McNulty.