Cliftonville were denied victory when Glenavon plundered an injury-time equaliser at Mourneview Park this afternoon.
After weathering an early storm, the Reds grew into the contest and deservedly led when Joe Gormley rifled home from close range after Jonny Tuffey had repelled a low Rory Donnelly drive.
That 41st minute strike looked like it would earn Cliftonville all three points in a battling display, only for a last-gasp Sammy Clingan goal to rescue a draw for the Lurgan Blues.
A testing clash almost got off to the worst possible start when, inside the first 30 seconds, the hosts were awarded a very soft free-kick when Bobby Burns hit the turf under next to no contact from Garry Breen, with the youngster’s wicked delivery nearly creeping in at the back post.
Breen was next to go close when he headed over from Ross Lavery’s corner delivery before nasty challenges on Levi Ives and Jude Winchester from Joel Cooper and Rhys Marshall respectively signalled the start of a busy afternoon’s work for Cliftonville’s physiotherapy team.
Jay Donnelly sent an attempt off target and, after Mark Sykes had been booked for clattering into Winchester, Brian Neeson’s timely touch prevented Andrew Mitchell from converting a Sykes cross, while a combination of the goalkeeper and Liam Bagnall prevented Glenavon from turning a goalmouth scramble into a breakthrough strike.
Sykes was fortunate that referee Arnold Hunter didn’t take action against him for a blatant dive in the penalty area just before Cliftonville pulled ahead when Winchester seized on some dilly-dallying from Clingan and, though his touch fell perfectly for Andrew Doyle, the home defender made a hash of his clearance and Rory Donnelly saw his subsequent shot beaten away by Tuffey, who was powerless to stop Gormley converting the rebound.
There was controversy early in the second-half when Cooper – who had conceded a series of free-kicks in the aftermath of his seventh minute booking for that foul on Ives – once again escaped punishment for a late challenge on Tomas Cosgrove, forcing the home management to substitute him before he pushed his luck any further.
Glenavon looked poised to level on 58 minutes when Stephen Murray teed up Mitchell, whose fierce shot rattled the woodwork ahead of Sykes sending his rebound wide of the mark.
The welcome return of midfielder Ruairi Harkin from the bench gave Cliftonville a welcome boost but it was Neeson to whom they were indebted for a fine one-handed stop to thwart Murray before a Bagnall foul on Sykes had the home dugout pressuring the referee for a red card which was never produced, leaving boss Barry Gray with little option but to withdraw the midfielder.
Tuffey had to be alert to stop a Jay Donnelly cross sneaking in at his near post but, amid strong home pressure in the closing stages, the Reds’ hopes of victory were snuffed out when Clingan rifled home from the edge of the area to earn his side a battling late point.
Cliftonville: Neeson, Ives, Breen, Bagnall, Winchester, Gormley, J Donnelly, Lavery, Cosgrove, A Donnelly, R Donnelly. Subs: Harkin (for Winchester, 58 mins), Hughes (for Gormley, 78 mins), Garrett, Dunne, McDonald (for Bagnall, 67 mins).