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Under the weather

While the postponements of recent weeks have left Cliftonville with three Danske Bank Premiership matches to reschedule, it will have come as little surprise to many supporters that yesterday’s clash with Ballymena United was one such example.

A frozen pitch at The Showgrounds was the latest obstruction to a fixture that has endured an almost comical recent history of rearrangements, with the last four seasons alone contributing a host of delays and, in one extreme case, an abandonment.

It all started when the sides were paired together in the semi-finals of the League Cup in November 2017. Luck of the draw handed Ballymena home advantage against a Reds side that had overcome Carrick Rangers to book their place in the December 12 contest.

Before that date had even come around, however, the match was postponed more than 24 hours ahead of kick-off, with heavy snowfall influencing the decision to try again on January 16.

In between times, the Clubs commenced 2018 by convening at Solitude for a Danske Bank Premiership encounter on an ominously stormy night, when Jude Winchester put Cliftonville ahead only for Kyle Owens to level matters before half-time.

During the break, though, referee Evan Boyce took the wise decision to call a halt to proceedings due to the severe winds not only negating any kind of football being played, but also endangering the safety of players, staff and spectators. The game was duly rescheduled for February 6.

Fans stream out after high winds forced an early end to the 2018 home game with Ballymena United

Two weeks on, it was time for that eagerly-anticipated League Cup joust – only for snow to strike once more, with frustration and confusion heightened further when inaccurate media reports suggested the tie had simply been put back by 24 hours.

It was soon clarified that the teams would endeavour to make it third time lucky by doing battle on February 6, meaning that the outstanding Premiership tie at Solitude would have to be slated for a new date.

On February 5, Club officials made contact with the NI Football League to express their concerns over the prospect of the tie taking place due to continued adverse weather conditions but were assured there were no issues over the match proceeding as scheduled.

On the morning of the contest, however, a pitch inspection was called – but, against all odds, the surface was deemed playable and, at long last, it was game on!

Until 90 minutes before kick-off, that is, when referee Keith Kennedy arrived at The Showgrounds and instantly declared there was no chance of any football being played on a pitch that was frozen solid.

And so the semi-final encounter had to be rearranged yet again and, with Dungannon Swifts having already secured their place in the February 17 Final (a mere week-and-a-half later), time was running out to ensure the competition’s deadlines were met.

That being the case, Cliftonville’s Premiership trip to Warrenpoint Town on February 10 was put back to the 13th so that the Reds could lock horns with Ballymena on the 10th amid a raft of potential permutations surrounding the upcoming home tie with Linfield on the 16th.

It was agreed that if Cliftonville overcame Ballymena, the game with the Blues would be rearranged due to its close proximity to the following day’s League Cup Final, but if the Reds lost their semi-final outing, the Linfield clash would simply be put back until 3pm on the 17th.

If, however, the League Cup game with Ballymena was postponed for a fourth time, it and the League Cup Final would be rearranged for alternative dates in the future and Cliftonville’s Premiership tie with the Blues would assume the Final’s Sky Sports slot at 5.30pm on the 17th.

Got all that?

As it turned out, the game at The Showgrounds finally went ahead on the 10th and the Reds duly obliged to provide the most straightforward of all the above options by losing 3-1 on a day when it was inevitably teeming down with rain, although Ballymena’s joy was short-lived when they went down to Dungannon by the same scoreline in the decider seven days later.

As for the Premiership matches that were chopped and changed as a consequence of a hectic few weeks of weather, Cliftonville enjoyed a comfortable 3-1 win over Warrenpoint but lost out 2-1 to Linfield before bringing the curtain down on the bizarre saga when, on March 20, United claimed a 2-1 success at Solitude on the night that January’s abandoned encounter was finally resolved.