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Drawn back

Ballymena United 1-1 Cliftonville

Cliftonville’s bid for a fourth consecutive Danske Bank Premiership win was undone by a stunning Ballymena United equaliser at The Showgrounds this evening.

After seeing their long wait for a penalty kick ended when Ryan Curran broke the deadlock with a quarter of an hour left to play, the Reds were hit with a sucker punch when Shay McCartan rattled in an unstoppable drive from distance.

With the same two players having netted in sequence when the sides locked horns last Tuesday, all that was missing was a last-gasp Paul O’Neill winner to complete the set but, despite both sides going in search of victory, the points were shared at the end of a typically keen battle.

Following a bright start to the game from the hosts, Cliftonville began to take command of affairs as the first-half progressed with Chris Curran seeing a long-range attempt charged down before being unable to get enough purchase on a second effort after Barry Coffey’s shot had been blocked.

An inviting low cross from Daniel Kearns then had no takers ahead of a well-timed Joe McCready intervention stopping Coffey getting a shot away.

The Reds maintained their forward motion after the break with a smart passing sequence ending with Aaron Donnelly winning a corner, which ended with Liam Bagnall’s knockdown being scrambled away by a relieved Ballymena defence.

Aaron McCarey showed good hands to field a tricky McCartan free-kick from distance and, a minute later, Kris Lowe played Ryan Curran in on the left but there was nobody in the middle to get on the end of his cross.

McCarey then needed two attempts to deal with Ben Wylie’s bobbling strike before the deadlock was broken when substitute Daire O’Connor did well to get in behind defender Trai Hume only to be taken down by goalkeeper Ross Glendinning, who was duly beaten from the spot by Ryan Curran.

As was an ongoing theme, the Reds then saw another dangerous delivery – from Rory Hale this time – come to nothing and it wasn’t long before United drew level; McCartan picking his spot with a delightful effort from a long way out.

That teed up an end-to-end final five minutes in which O’Connor sent a strike over the top and McCarey reacted well to turn an audacious Ryan Waide flick behind but, try as they might, neither team was able to find a winner.

Cliftonville: McCarey, Breen, O’Reilly, C Curran, R Curran, Donnelly, Bagnall, Lowe, Kearns (O’Connor, 69 mins), O’Neill, Coffey (Hale, 62 mins). Unused subs: Dunne, Harney, McCrudden, Doherty, Casey.