Ballymena United 2-2 Cliftonville
The latest additions to Jamie McDonagh’s Goal of the Month competition weren’t enough for Cliftonville to claim victory as Ballymena United hit back late on at The Showgrounds.
Ahead though McDonagh’s stunning first-half volley, the Reds doubled their advantage when the winger seized upon possession and steered a wonderful effort into the far corner with the outside of his right boot with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Cliftonville looked to be cruising to three points from that stage but United gave themselves hope when Leroy Millar squeezed home on 88 minutes before salvaging a draw courtesy of Paul McElroy’s injury-time penalty.
The first opportunity of what ultimately developed into a madcap night came on 12 minutes when an excellent burst of pace from McDonagh saw him breeze past Sean Graham and cut the ball back for Cricky Gallagher, whose unorthodox effort was wonderfully cleared off the line by the recovering Graham.
After Ryan Curran saw an effort turned behind, McDonagh brought a reaction stop out of United keeper Ciaran Gallagher, with Joe Gormley’s follow-up deflected for a corner. Levi Ives’ delivery was headed clear to the edge of the box, where McDonagh lay in wait to leather home an unstoppable volley.
The winger had a glorious opportunity to double Cliftonville’s lead on the half-hour but, with the goal gaping, was unable to keep his shot from Gallagher’s delivery the right side of the crossbar.
In the second period, McDonagh saw a corner punched away in a panic by the Ballymena keeper before a fierce Gormley effort was bravely blocked by Conor Keeley.
Another Gormley shot was then put out for a corner, but Jonny Addis was unable to capitalise when the ball fell to his feet inside the six-yard box and the same player then headed wide from another set-piece delivery.
A second Reds goal always looked to be on the cards and it duly arrived when substitute Paul O’Neill led a swift counter-attack which ended with McDonagh seizing on possession and sweeping the ball into the far corner with a deft flick of his boot.
O’Neill then went close to making it 3-0 with a strike from distance before, out of nowhere, United pulled one back when a moment of hesitancy in the visiting defence ended with Millar squeezing the ball past Luke McNicholas.
Another O’Neill attempt might have restored Cliftonville’s two-goal advantage but, against the odds, they were left to reflect on what might have been when referee Lee Tavinder harshly ruled that Gallagher had handled inside the area and McElroy stepped up to convert from the penalty spot.
Cliftonville: McNicholas, McDermott, Ives, R Curran (Harney, 86 mins), McDonagh, Lowe (Donnelly, 86 mins), Addis, Doherty (C Curran, 81 mins), Gormley (O’Neill, 74 mins), Turner, Gallagher. Unused subs: McKenna, Coates, Kearns.