Despite a spirited effort, Cliftonville were unable to claw their way back from behind against Coleraine at Solitude this afternoon.
Trailing to an early David Ogilby free-kick, the Reds levelled courtesy of Rory Donnelly but went 2-1 down early in the second-half when Joe McCready capitalised on some slack defending.
Donnelly, Joe Gormley, Stephen Garrett and Garry Breen all went close to an equaliser but, try as they might, Cliftonville – who had Liam Bagnall sent off for two late booking – could not peg the Bannsiders back for a second time.
Though the hosts had started reasonably well, they found themselves behind with Coleraine’s first effort of note; Ogilby stepping up to direct a free-kick through the wall and into the bottom corner with just 10 minutes on the clock.
Jude Winchester and Jay Donnelly each threatened to level matters before Brian Neeson made a fine stop to prevent Jamie McGonigle from doubling the visitors’ advantage.
The equaliser came on 21 minutes when Chris Curran’s corner sailed through to the back post, where Rory Donnelly was perfectly positioned to steer the ball into the back of the net.
The momentum unquestionably on their side, it was a shock to see Cliftonville fall behind again when McGonigle was afforded far too much time inside the area and, though his turn saw him lose possession, nobody in home colours dealt with the loose ball and McCready pounced to poke past a furious Neeson.
Cliftonville responded well, however, and almost levelled instantly when Rory Donnelly’s touch, turn and pass teed Joe Gormley up for an attempt he was only able to direct straight at goalkeeper Chris Johns.
The Reds should have had a penalty when a clear drag back on Curran somehow eluded the attention of referee Andrew Davey before Jay Donnelly sent an attempt wide of the mark.
Neeson showed smart reactions to stop Jamie Harney slicing a clearance into his own net and, as Cliftonville continued pouring forward in search of an equaliser, both Donnelly brothers were off target ahead of Rory failing to make a clean connection with Bagnall’s free-kick delivery.
Substitute Stephen Garrett headed wide just when he seemed set to find the net but the hosts’ final chance came and went as Johns repelled a close-range header from Garry Breen before Bagnall felled McGonigle on the halfway line, earning a second booking on a disappointing end to a frustrating afternoon.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Harney, Curran, Bagnall, Winchester, Gormley, J Donnelly, R Donnelly. Subs: Long, Hughes (Gormley, 79 mins), Garrett (McGovern, 65 mins), M Donnelly, Cosgrove (Winchester, 55 mins).
Match Sponsor: Sean McClean
Half Gate Draw Number: 66320