Poor starts to both halves saw Cliftonville tumble to an uncharacteristically flat defeat at the hands of Glentoran in this afternoon’s Danske Bank Premiership encounter at Solitude.
Cameron Stewart poked the visitors ahead in the opening minutes, with Chris Gallagher doubling the Glens’ advantage early in the second-half.
The Reds – who failed to find any kind of rhythm throughout – were handed a numerical advantage when Hrvoje Plum was dismissed for two bookable offences but any hopes of a comeback were dashed when a late Ruaidhri Donnelly effort was ruled out for handball by referee Raymond Crangle.
While it took just four minutes for the Glens to make their breakthrough, the truth is they had two presentable opportunities prior to that; Robbie McDaid sending a half-volley wide before steering a flicked header similarly off target.
The first goal did arrive, however, when McDaid played Marcus Kane in on the left and, when his low drive took a slight nick off advancing goalkeeper Richard Brush, Stewart was on hand to complete the job from close range.
After Brush had fielded a Plum free-kick, the Reds saw strong penalty appeals waved away when an acrobatic Joe Gormley effort was charged down by Conor Pepper’s hand, while a goalmouth scramble from a Ronan Doherty corner saw Joe Gorman go close to capitalising on an error from goalkeeper Marijan Antolovic.
Cliftonville’s hopes of a stirring second-half comeback were dashed within minutes of the turnaround when Gavin Peers’ searching free-kick wasn’t fully cleared and Kane nodded down for O’Neill to stroke the ball into the far corner.
The Reds began to take a degree of control on proceedings thereafter with substitute Conor McMenamin forcing a save from Antolovic ahead of Doherty cleverly creating some space for himself only to see his dipping volley graze the crossbar.
Gormley sent an attempt into the side netting and, after Plum – earlier cautioned for stopping a free-kick being taken – picked up a second yellow card for a trip on Thomas Maguire, McMenamin sent a left-footed strike just wide of the mark.
Cliftonville did have the ball in the net with five minutes remaining, only for the referee to rule that Donnelly had used his hand to complete the conversion, ahead of Brush producing an heroic save to prevent Pepper extending the visitors’ advantage at the finish.
Cliftonville: Brush, McDermott, Breen, R Curran, C Curran, R Donnelly, Doherty, Bagnall, Gormley, A Donnelly, Gorman. Subs: Dunne, Foster, Wilson, Maguire (Gorman, 79 mins), McMenamin (Bagnall, 52 mins), Rocks, McCurry.
Match Sponsor: Mr Sean McClean
Matchball Sponsors: Gareth & Aidan Lappin
Half Gate Draw Number: 119405