Joe Gormley scored twice as Cliftonville’s incessant pressure was rewarded with a late turnaround against Ards at Solitude this afternoon.
Trailing to an outrageous first-half strike from Michael McLellan, the Reds pressed and probed throughout the second period before Gormley slammed home from close range after good work from Conor McDonald with 11 minutes left on the clock.
A deflected Conor McMenamin effort put Cliftonville in front before Caoimhin McConnell teed Gormley up for his second of the day in injury-time – his a finish which draws him level with the Club’s leading scorer Kevin McGarry on 170 goals.
Although it required a late push to secure the points, the Reds had started brightly and went close in the first minute when Gormley set Jay Donnelly up for a strike that was deflected behind for a corner.
The same player was denied by a smart save by Sam Johnston soon later before both Ryan Curran and McDonald saw efforts charged down during a scramble following a corner kick.
Johnston then got down to save from Donnelly, whose rebound was blocked by Johnny Taylor, ahead of Ards taking the lead out of nowhere when McLellan let fly from 40 yards with a rocket that soared over Richard Brush and into the net.
Levi Ives went close to an instant reply, while the second-half started with Donnelly twice unfortunate not to equalise within the first 45 seconds.
Ives again tested his luck with an effort that Johnston needed two attempts to gather ahead of a more routine stop to deal with an underhit McDonald strike.
Donnelly then headed straight at the visiting keeper ahead of Cliftonville being awarded when a penalty when his elder sibling Rory – who had just emerged from the bench to make his first appearance of the domestic campaign – was hauled down by McLellan, only for an offside flag to reverse referee Evan Boyce’s decision.
Brush got down well to thwart Joshua Kelly during a rare Ards attack before the Reds got the leveller they deserved when Donnelly’s flick was nodded on by Gormley, who raced into the area to meet McDonald’s cut-back and finish.
The hosts almost took an immediate lead when a Jay Donnelly flick came back off the bar and fell to Gormley, whose thunderous effort whistled just wide of the post.
Soon later, however, Cliftonville were in front when Stephen Garrett’s header fell for McDonald, whose laid off for McMenamin to find the net with the aid of a deflection off Callum Byers.
Gormley then wrapped things up when he seized on McConnell’s first-time pass and forced Johnston to commit before clipping past him.
Cliftonville: Brush, McGovern, Ives, Breen, C Curran, R Curran (Garrett, 75 mins), McDonald, Catney (R Donnelly, 64 mins), Gormley, J Donnelly (McConnell, 89 mins), McMenamin. Unused subs: Neeson, Lavery, Maguire, A Donnelly.
Half Gate Draw Number: 91891