Cliftonville 1-2 Ballymena United
Cliftonville were left wondering quite how they managed to fall to defeat against Ballymena United this evening.
Despite enjoying the bulk of possession on the night and dominating the goalscoring opportunities, the Reds were left to rue a 2-1 loss that owed much to an inspired performance from visiting goalkeeper Ross Glendinning.
Strikes from former Cliftonville pair Johnny McMurray and Johnny Flynn had the Sky Blues in front before the 10-man hosts – who were forced to soldier on a man light after Garry Breen was stretchered off – reduced the arrears courtesy of Jamie Harney in injury-time.
Things might have been different had the Reds been able to capitalise on some bright early openings.
After saving from Chris Curran, Glendinning made a smart stop to deny Rory Donnelly and was within seconds at full stretch to turn a Jay Donnelly strike onto the bar.
The latter was just off target after being played through by Grimes on the half-hour, before United edged in front in somewhat fortuitous circumstances when Fra McCaffrey put McMurray in the clear and his attempt to fix his footing ended with him taking an inadvertant touch that sent the ball past Brian Neeson.
Early in the second-half, Glendinning got behind a decent Jay Donnelly attempt and, after referee Lee Tavinder had waved away penalty appeals following a trip on Joe Gormley, Rory Donnelly was all out of luck with a bullet header that struck the crossbar twice before dropping behind and away from danger.
The same player was once again kept at bay by Glendinning before United substitute Matthew Shevlin should have made it 2-0 when he was sent scampering through on goal, only for Neeson to make a block before Levi Ives stole in to clear.
Two minutes later, an Ives delivery looked to have yielded the equaliser only for Joe Gormley’s blistering drive to take a nick off Rory Donnelly en route over the top – and it was at this point that home fans really started to believe that it was simply not going to be Cliftonville’s night.
Their instincts proved accurate shortly afterwards as Ballymena doubled their advantage against the run of play when a short corner kick wasn’t closed down, allowing Tony Kane all the time in the world to send in a cross that Flynn seized upon at the second time of asking.
Breen headed wide from a Conor McDonald corner as the Reds sought an avenue back into the contest before the central defender was forced into an early exit after suffering what looked like a serious injury.
Despite being a man light, Cliftonville continued to pour forward and, from Tomas Cosgrove’s delivery, Rory Donnelly sent in an attempt that produced Glendinning’s finest stop of the night – a flying fingertip save to turn the ball behind for a corner.
Soon later, further penalty appeals were dismissed despite McDonald taking a tumble in the area but it wasn’t long until the Reds finally got the better of the man between the posts when Harney, fresh from an unsuccesful attempt at an overhead kick, showed good initiative to stick out a leg and turn the ball home.
Try as they might, however, the 10 men were unable to bank the leveller their performance deserved as Cliftonville were left to reflect on a night of missed opportunities.
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Breen, Harney, Curran, Bagnall, Winchester, Gormley, J Donnelly, Grimes, R Donnelly. Subs: Mooney, Ives (for Grimes, 66 mins), Lavery, Cosgrove (for McGovern, 71 mins), McDonald (for Winchester, 61 mins).
Mr Jack Patterson
Half Gate Draw Number: 81286