Cliftonville 4-3 Linfield
Cliftonville produced a stirring display to get the better of Linfield in tonight’s seven-goal thriller at Solitude.
Trailing to an early Jordan Stewart strike, the Reds responded through Michael McCrudden only for Ronan Doherty’s second-half own goal to restore the Blues’ advantage against the run of play.
Conor McMenamin would produce a moment of magic to level matters before repeating the trick to put Cliftonville in front for the first time on the night, with Ryan Curran’s well-taken finish proving decisive when Linfield reduced the arrears through Kirk Millar’s injury-time free-kick.
Despite making a slow start, the Reds were first to threaten when Rory Hale shot wide from distance but there was little surprise when the visitors were rewarded for their efforts on 13 minutes; Jamie Mulgrew slipping Stewart in for an emphatic finish.
It was no less than Linfield had deserved for an enterprising beginning to the contest, but they were shocked to be pegged back soon later when clever work from Hale saw the midfielder buy himself just enough time and space to pick out McCrudden for a close range finish.
Evidently buoyed to have restored parity, Cliftonville grew more and more into the game and Hale was unlucky not to get another assist to his name when he got just too much weight on an attempted pass through to Ryan Curran just before the half-hour.
Stewart flashed a teasing ball across the face of goal at the other end and McMenamin found the side netting after linking up with McCrudden, while the second-half started with Ryan Curran misconnecting from a promising position and then being denied an attempt on goal thanks to Kyle McClean’s timely intervention.
It was vital that Cliftonville made their dominance count but, as is so often the case, Linfield found a way to restore their advantage when Jamie Mulgrew fired in a shot that took a huge deflection off Doherty on its way past a helpess Aaron McCarey.
Within two minutes, Ryan Curran had a header nodded off the line by Mark Haughey after being teed up by a delivery from namesake Chris but the Reds got the leveller their play merited when, with 73 minutes on the clock, Jamie Harney’s diagonal ball picked out McMenamin and he got the better of Conor Pepper before drilling a right-footed strike into the bottom corner.
Nine minutes later, he did virtually the same thing again to put Cliftonville in front. Harney again supplied the pass, with McMenamin brushing past Pepper and sending in a shot that was too hot for goalkeeper Chris Johns to handle.
Linfield felt they should have been awarded an 86th minute penalty when Stephen Fallon tumbled under close attentions from Harney and, soon after referee Raymond Crangle had dismissed those appeals, the Reds appeared to have made the points safe when substitute Daire O’Connor’s cutback found Curran, who got the goal his performance deserved in making it 4-2.
There was still drama to come, however, with Linfield narrowing the margin courtesy of a stupendous free-kick from Millar to set up a nervy finale which thankfully delivered no further twists as Cliftonville deservedly banked all three Danske Bank Premiership points.
Cliftonville: McCarey, Breen, Harney, C Curran, R Curran, McCrudden (O’Connor, 79 mins), McMenamin (Teggart, 85 mins), Donnelly, Bagnall, Doherty, Hale. Unused subs: Brush, Foster, Casey, Maguire, O’Brien.