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Repeating the point

Crusaders 2-2 Cliftonville

For the second time this season, Cliftonville were forced to settle for a North Belfast Derby point despite deserving all three.

As had been the case against Crusaders in January, the Reds battled from behind to lead 2-1 but saw victory snatched away in the closing minutes.

Jordan Forsythe had given the hosts a fortuitous half-time advantage but goals from Ryan Curran and Michael McCrudden put Cliftonville in command only for Philip Lowry to scramble home a late leveller.

The Reds played on the front foot from the off and almost pulled ahead when a well-worked corner routine ended with a glancing McCrudden effort that Sean O’Neill did well to get down and save.

O’Neill also repelled a Daire O’Connor strike before opposite number Aaron McCarey easily gathered a close-range header from Declan Caddell.

Aaron Donnelly clipped the top of the bar with a free-kick from an acute angle before both sides went close to making the breakthrough; McCarey racing off his line to keep Paul Heatley at bay before Ryan Curran came within inches of connecting with a teasing McCrudden delivery.

Crusaders broke the deadlock on 29 minutes when Forsythe headed Jarlath O’Rourke’s corner home, a development which led to the home side enjoying their best spell of the game before the Reds offered a glimpse of better things to come when McCrudden did well to tee up Ryan Curran but his effort from the edge of the area spinned over the top.

Cliftonville emerged for the second-half with their tails up and were rewarded when Kris Lowe laid the ball back for McCrudden, whose high cross was met by a powerful Ryan Curran header.

The hosts were fortunate that referee Ian McNabb saw absolutely nothing wrong with a challenge that saw O’Connor hauled down just outside the box but it wasn’t long before the Reds were in front; McCarey’s long punt down the field causing problems for Billy Joe Burns and allowing McCrudden to finish with a first-time effort that appeared to catch O’Neill by surprise.

Lowry looked certain to make it 2-2 when he raced through on goal only for good pressure from Jamie Harney to provide McCarey with enough time to intervene and, at the other end, Cliftonville went agonisingly close to extending their advantage when Rory Hale clipped a shot over O’Neill only for Burns to clear off the line.

That incident took on even greater significance with three minutes remaining when Crusaders levelled from another corner; Lowry cleverly backheeling the ball into the net after Burns had won the initial header.

There was still time for both teams to win it, though, with Ryan Curran volleying over from inside the box before Harney and Ryan O’Reilly combined to stop Jamie McGonigle from stealing victory for Crusaders.

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