Cliftonville made it three 1-0 wins in a row courtesy of Stephen Garrett’s second-half strike against Ballymena United this afternoon.
The woodwork played a key role throughout the contest at a rainswept Solitude, where the Sky Blues were twice denied by the frame of the goal ahead of Garrett pouncing for the only goal after Rory Donnelly’s drive had come back off the upright.
Earlier in the day, Garrett had gone close to breaking the deadlock from a Jay Donnelly cross, while Emmet Friars’ intervention prevented Joe Gormley from converting a tantalising delivery by Rory Donnelly.
As the first-half wore on, though, it was Ballymena who exerted greater control with Tony Kane twice steering 20-yard drives just over the top.
A miscue by Johnny McMurray got Cliftonville off the hook, while the former Reds striker was left frustrated again 10 minutes before the break when goalkeeper Brian Neeson beat him to a loose ball after Conor McCloskey’s attempt had struck the base of the post.
A miscued clearance from Neeson then presented McMurray with an opportunity to shoot from distance but, again, the woodwork came to Cliftonville’s rescue as the United frontman saw his vicious strike rattle the crossbar.
The Reds were much improved after the interval and, after Garry Breen had nodded off target, a deflected Gormley effort was acrobatically turned over the top by Ross Glendinning, who looked on with relief when another Gormley effort whistled across the face of goal and wide.
Rory Donnelly was unable to make the most of a rebound after Glendinning had spilled a Jude Winchester shot, while referee Evan Boyce was deaf to home claims for a penalty after Gormley’s pass appeared to be cut out by Kofi Balmer’s arm.
A Winchester delivery from the right caused carnage in a crowded six-yard area, where Gormley saw a cheeky effort blocked and Jay Donnelly was unable to capitalise before Jim Ervin nipped in to clear and, just a few minutes later, Chris Curran’s header drifted harmlessly wide.
There was a growing sense among the Cliftonville support that a goal was coming and it duly arrived on 70 minutes when, from a Jaimie McGovern throw, Gormley touched the ball into Rory Donnelly’s path and, though his attempt clattered the post, Garrett was on hand to finish off from close range.
Rory Donnelly and Breen each went close to doubling the Reds’ advantage and, though Ballymena unsurprisingly forced some better possession in the closing stages, Barry Gray’s side held on to complete their 100% success rate in November.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Harney, Curran, Garrett, Winchester, Gormley, J Donnelly, R Donnelly. Subs: Dunne, Hughes, M. Donnelly, Bagnall (for Winchester, 67 mins), Lavery.
Sean Graham Man of the Match: Chris Curran
Half Gate Draw Number: 74996