Cliftonville maintained their fine home form with a hard-fought victory over Ballymena United this afternoon. Ahead through a James Knowles penalty, the Reds doubled their advantage via Jude Winchester and held on for victory thanks in no small part to a fine display from goalkeeper Peter Burke. After a sluggish start to proceedings, Cliftonville were left furious when referee Tim Marshall waved away penalty appeals in the aftermath of Caolan Loughran's foul on Davy McDaid and, within 60 seconds, United almost netted at the other end through Conor McCloskey only for Levi Ives to block. The breakthrough came shortly afterwards and this time ref Marshall - fresh from an incredible free-kick award against Stephen Garrett, only to be corrected by his assistant - did point to the spot, but only after a lengthy discussion with his other assistant after Kyle Owens had blocked a McDaid drive with his arm. Knowles stepped up to confidently stroke home from 12 yards and that was an advantage the Reds held until the interval, five minutes after which Ballymena came close to levelling; Burke getting his angles right to stop Cathair Friel finding the far corner after Tomas Cosgrove had been dispossessed. Soon later, a miscued Burke goal kick fell invitingly for United's Allan Jenkins and, after Caoimhin Bonner and Jason McGuinness had combined to work possession back to the keeper, Burke's kick forward almost put McDaid through on goal only for Loughran to intervene. As the end-to-end start to the second-half continued, Cliftonville pulled two ahead when McDaid evaded the visitors' offside trap and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Winchester to net from close range. Winchester almost made it 3-0 just past the hour but, from a Daniel Hughes pass, was unable to steer his attempt on target before Friel was unfortunate with a glancing header across the face of goal at the other end. Francis McCaffrey curled a strike inches past the upright and, after Owens had stopped McDaid from further increasing the Reds' lead, William Faulkner dinked an attempt against the base of the post with Friel leathering his rebound wide. McCaffrey went close again with a cheeky lob that Burke superbly touched away ahead of a bizarre 77th minute incident involving the home keeper. Injured in an aerial duel with Jenkins, Burke stayed grounded as the United midfielder shot and, though Bonner cleared off the line, the ball found its way back to Jenkins who, having by now noticed Burke's plight, opted against a second attempt at goal and decided to knock the ball out. A misunderstanding developed, however, with Ryan Catney keeping possession alive and racing forward with Ross Lavery before United were finally able to clear the ball and the home support could provide Jenkins with the ovation his sporting gesture deserved. The final 10 minutes saw both teams go close; McDaid sending an attempt just wide of the mark before United sub Neil Lowry appealed for a penalty after taking a tumble under pressure from Levi Ives but, not for the first time, ref Marshall waved play on.
United we stand
Cliftonville 2-0 Ballymena United
James Knowles steps up to score from the penalty spot before taking the adulation of his team mates, while (right) Stephen Garrett closes in on Jim Ervin
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Chris Curran Martin Donnelly Ryan Catney Ross Lavery Aaron Donnelly
  
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Peter Burke Levi Ives Caoimhin Bonner Jason McGuinness James Knowles Davy McDaid Stephen Garrett Daniel Hughes Ruairi Harkin Jude Winchester Tomas Cosgrove