Crusaders 3-2 Cliftonville
Cliftonville’s failure to see games out came back to haunt them yet again as Crusaders became the latest beneficiaries in an action-packed North Belfast Derby at Seaview.
After taking the lead through a penalty that saw Joe Gormley break the Club’s goalscoring record, the Reds found themselves behind when first Rory Patterson and then Ross Clarke found the net for the hosts.
A second Gormley spot-kick saw the striker make it 2-2 with his 172nd Cliftonville goal – a conversion that looked set to ensure the spoils were shared until deep into injury-time, when Jordan Owens pounced to ensure the Crues added their name to the list of sides against whom the Reds have dropped points at the death this season.
The hosts should have taken the lead with just six minutes on the clock when Paul Heatley played Patterson into space and, when the striker returned possession to his team-mate inside the area, Heatley blazed over the top with the goal gaping.
Gormley threatened with a powerful free-kick that Colin Coates did well not to divert into his own net but, on 14 minutes, it was a handling offence by the Crues’ skipper that earned Cliftonville a penalty – and Gormley made no mistake with a thumping finish to break both the deadlock and the Club’s goals record.
Soon later, Gormley tried his luck from distance with an early curling shot that Sean O’Neill dealt with ahead of Rory Donnelly sending a half-volley over the bar from the edge of the box.
On the half-hour mark, Owens was off target with a shot from Jordan Forsythe’s cross, with Chris Curran likewise unable to test the keeper at the other end with a low drive that whistled wide.
The equaliser came soon later, however, when Richard Brush’s clearance was nodded back downfield by Coates and, when Owens flicked the ball on, Patterson nipped in behind Garry Breen to produce a firm finish.
Crusaders almost pulled in front early in the second-half but, after Conor McMenamin had charged a Heatley shot down, Kyle Owens’ rebound was superbly blocked by Levi Ives – but it wasn’t long before the ball was in the net; Clarke stroking home a free-kick awarded for as-yet-undetermined reasons by referee Ian McNabb, for whom even television replays have yet to produce an answer.
The Reds hit back almost immediately, though, when Jordan Owens’ inexplicable push on Breen earned a second spot-kick and Gormley once again made no mistake.
Both teams had opportunities to forge back in front, with Cliftonville’s best chance coming when Curran worked his way through a raft of challenges but was unable to dig the ball out from his feet just when he was preparing to shoot.
The tie looked set to end in what would have been a deserved draw for both points, only for the Reds’ propensity for late collapse to strike yet again when, after McMenamin had got up well to clear a long ball forward, he found himself back under immediate pressure when possession was once again lumped in his direction and, when Patterson stole in to smash a blast across the face of goal, Brush’s fingertip touch only served to tee an unmarked Owens up for the most simple of finishes.
Cliftonville: Brush, McGovern, Ives, Breen, C Curran, R Donnelly, McDonald, Catney, Gormley, J Donnelly, McMenamin. Subs: Neeson, R Curran (McDonald, 72 mins), Garrett, McConnell, Lavery, Maguire, A Donnelly.