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Lose fitting

Ballymena United 1-0 Cliftonville

Cliftonville slipped to their first defeat of the season as their poor run of form at The Ballymena Showgrounds continued on what is perhaps best described as ‘one of those days’ on the Braid.

With two players guilty of failing to hit the target with the goal gaping and others drilling efforts just wide in addition to home stopper Jordan Williamson making a number of vital stops, it’s fair to say the Reds did not lack endeavour this afternoon but were, crucially, missing that critical dose of ingenuity at the top end of the park.

United scored with their only serious opportunity courtesy of Kenny Kane’s superb first-half finish and, try as they might during a dominant display of one-way traffic after the interval, Cliftonville were simply unable to force the ball into the net to pocket what would have at least been a deserved point.

The first big chance of the day fell to Ryan Curran, who saw his effort kept out by Williamson, before a corner from Jamie McDonagh – who had earlier sent an attempt just wide – was headed off the line, with Rory Hale next to go close.

Despite all of those opportunities going the Reds’ way, it was the hosts who would break the deadlock when Kane seized upon Ryan Waide’s forward pass and curled a fine effort into the bottom corner.

Before the half was out, Curran headed off target from Hale’s cross before the second period saw Cliftonville apply virtually relentless pressure in search of an equaliser.

First, Hale’s lobbed effort was stopped by Williamson, who looked on with relief when Ronan Doherty blazed over the bar after the keeper had dropped the ball into his path.

McDonagh volleyed into the side netting and Williamson denied Ryan Curran again ahead of Joe Gormley stroking just wide when he looked certain to capitalise on an open goal.

The only real chance Ballymena had to double their advantage in the second-half came when a combination of high winds and an awkward bounce saw Declan Dunne drop possession at Jonte Smith’s feet, but the keeper reacted smartly to knock the ball out of the substitute’s path and allow Jonny Addis to clear.

The Reds continued to pursue a leveller and, with United pinned back in a crowded penalty area late on, their final chance came and went when Chris Curran’s half-volley whistled past the upright.

Cliftonville: Dunne, Hale (Kearns, 83 mins), R Curran, McDonagh (C Curran, 70 mins), Lowe, Donnelly (O’Neill, 78 mins), Addis, Doherty, Gormley, Turner, Gallagher. Unused subs: McNicholas, Harney, Foster, Coates.