Carrick Rangers 0-1 Cliftonville
Ryan Curran’s firm first-half finish proved the difference as Cliftonville overcame Carrick Rangers to make it three Danske Bank Premiership wins in a row.
Things could have been much more comfortable had the Reds made the most of gilt-edged chances either side of home defender Kurtis Forsythe being sent off for a poor challenge on Paul O’Neill, but thankfully their failure to make the most of those opportunities did not come back to haunt them as the Gers went in search of a late equaliser.
The first chance of the game was fashioned by Kris Lowe, who attempted an audacious effort when Reece Neale’s clearance fell his way but he skewed his half-volleyed attempt across the face of goal and wide.
Rory Hale saw an effort deflected wide and an O’Neill cross was just too high for Ryan Curran as Cliftonville made a bright start at The Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena, but it was Carrick who came closest to breaking the deadlock with two golden chances inside a minute.
First, Jordan Jenkins saw a close-range effort scrambled behind and, from the resulting corner, two penalty appeals came in before goalkeeper Aaron McCarey turned a Lloyd Anderson shot against the base of the post.
That seemed to give the Gers the lift they were looking for and they grew into the game thereafter, with Jenkins wasting a glorious opportunity when his attempted chip of the keeper scaled the bar after he had managed to get himself in a one-on-one situation amid visiting appeals for a foul on Garry Breen.
The Reds made their breakthrough on 32 minutes when Aaron Donnelly found Lowe with a smart pass and, though the full-back was instantly set upon by two Carrick defenders, he did just enough to send the ball Ryan Curran’s way and he made no mistake with a confident low strike.
Early in the second-half, Barry Coffey miscued a shot after being teed up by Chris Curran before O’Neill set Hale up for what looked certain to be Cliftonville’s second goal, only for the midfielder to stroke his effort the wrong side of the post.
Chris Curran’s attempt to pick namesake Ryan out with a cross was well defended before Carrick almost levelled out of nowhere; a good tackle from Donnelly seeing the ball roll favourably for Reece Glendinning, who rattled the crossbar with a thumping strike from 30 yards.
The hosts were soon reduced to 10 men, however, when O’Neill’s attempt to instigate a breakaway was stopped unceremoniously by Forsythe, who lunged in after the ball had gone. Following some lengthy disputes between both sets of players, referee Evan Boyce consulted with fourth official Glenn Buchana before flashing a red card firstly in Forsythe’s direction and then at both sides’ Assistant Managers – although Brian Donaghey and Andy Hunter had long since settled their differences over the issue with a handshake.
When play resumed, Lowe was the next visiting player to try his luck but was once again off target before Anderson’s low shot was comfortably gathered by McCarey at the other end.
O’Neill saw an overhead kick drift wide before substitiute Daire O’Connor was next to pass up an opportunity to find the goal that would surely have killed Carrick off. Lowe’s attempt to play McCrudden through on goal evenetually ended with the striker cutting the ball back into the goalmouth, where O’Connor failed to make a proper connection, allowing Aaron Hogg to make a straightforward stop.
Neale’s superb block stopped Ryan Curran from bagging his second after a neat take and volley inside the box, while another McCrudden cutback found no takers inside the box as Rangers started to sense that perhaps this need not necessarily be Cliftonville’s day after all.
With defender Caolan Loughran redeployed up front, the closing stages saw the Reds’ backline subject to an aerial bombardment but, with McCarey called upon to do nothing more than the basics, the visitors ensured there would be no late twist in their bid to maintain this week’s run of wins.
Cliftonville: McCarey, Breen, O’Reilly, C Curran, R Curran, Donnelly, Bagnall, Hale (O’Connor, 58 mins), Lowe, O’Neill (McCrudden, 71 mins), Coffey. Unused subs: Dunne, Harney, Casey, O’Brien, Kearns.