Cliftonville 1-0 Ballymena United
Ryan Curran squeezed home the only goal of the game as Cliftonville edged past Ballymena United at Solitude this afternoon.
Grateful to goalkeeper Luke McNicholas for saves that prevented the visitors from leading 2-0 at the break, the Reds took a firm grip on proceedings after the interval and got their reward on 68 minutes when the ball fell for Curran inside the area and he sent a low drive squirming through a sea of legs and over the line before United stopper Jordan Williamson could intervene.
Things might have been different had Ballymena been able to make the most of the first-half openings they created.
First, Jude Winchester failed to make a proper connection on his shot following Paul McElroy’s headed flick-on before McNicholas used his legs to keep a point-blank Kenny Kane effort out.
Cliftonville were struggling to find any sort of sustained possession and almost fell behind when, following some pinball inside the box, the ball eventually fell for Leroy Millar, whose controlled strike was turned behind by the keeper.
Both of the hosts’ chances in the opening 45 minutes fell to Levi Ives who, after blazing one right-footed shot wildly wide, saw a diving header easily gathered by Williamson.
It was a different story after the break, however, as Cliftonville took a firm grip on proceedings.
After Ryan Curran thundered over the top from one corner, Daniel Kearns clipped the crossbar following another while there were half-hearted appeals for a penalty when Curran’s cross struck Millar’s arm.
The breakthrough finally came on 68 minutes when Steven McCullough’s foul on Chris Curran earned a free-kick which, when dinked into the middle by the skipper, saw Joe Gormley go close to heading goalward only for the ball to break for Ryan Curran, whose low drive sneaked over the line.
The same player went close to making it 2-0 only to crack the angle of post and bar from distance but one goal proved sufficient to maintain the Reds’ perfect home form.
Cliftonville: McNicholas, Ives, C Curran, R Curran, Lowe, Donnelly (McDermott, 46 mins), Addis, Gormley (O’Neill, 72 mins), Turner, Gallagher, Kearns (Harney, 86 mins). Unused subs: Dunne, McDonagh, Casey, Coates.