Joe Gormley’s second-half header earned Cliftonville a fully merited point against Linfield this evening – but the Reds departed Windsor Park rueing that they weren’t able to take all three.
After falling behind to Jordan Stewart’s early strike, the visitors totally dominated possession and, though they found openings in the final third had to come by in the opening half, were a much different proposition after the interval, with Gormley’s headed leveller the very least they deserved.
That Stewart strike was the evening’s first real incident of note; the forward’s slightly deflected shot giving Declan Dunne no chance after Billy Chadwick had seized upon Chris Shields’ long ball over the top.
Cliftonville’s reponse began with a Jonny Addis header that the defender wasn’t quite able to get a clean connection on before Stewart dinked an effort harmlessly over at the other end.
Good work from Ryan Curran then put Gormley in the clear but, after Jimmy Callacher had blocked the avenue for a return pass, the Reds striker found himself crowded out before the offside flag was raised against his team-mate.
On 35 minutes, a Jamie McDonagh delivery eventually fell for Kris Lowe and, when he returned the ball to the back post, McDonagh rose well but couldn’t test goalkeeper Chris Johns.
The Reds had a let-off in the closing minutes of the first-half when Matthew Clarke’s header from a Kirk Millar cross whistled across the face of goal and wide, while the second period started with Declan Dunne saving from Trai Hume.
Soon later, the visitors were level. After some typically patient build-up play, McDonagh whipped in a beauty of a cross for the unmarked Gormley to head home in front of the Red Army in the Kop Stand – and it was almost 2-1 when Gormley got the better of Michael Newberry and laid the ball off for substitute Rory Hale, whose subsequent touch towards Ryan Curran saw the striker unable to make a telling connection on his shot which sailed over the top.
Despite being well on top, the Reds were inches away from falling behind in the final 10 minutes when a fierce Stephen Fallon blast flashed wide while, at the other end, Hale slipped Paul O’Neill through only for Johns to race out and block, with referee Keith Kennedy awarding the Blues a free-kick following the collision.
Four minutes into injury-time, a lightning break from Cliftonville saw Hale pick Ryan Curran out on the right and, when he played an inviting pass inside, O’Neill’s low effort was superbly kept out by Johns, who will have been oblivious to the offside flag that had been raised against the visiting sub.
That would prove the final opportunity of an entertaining night’s action that saw both sides maintain their unbeaten starts to the season.
Cliftonville: Dunne, Ives, C Curran, R Curran, McDonagh (Hale, 59 mins), Lowe, Addis, Doherty, Gormley (O’Neill, 83 mins), Turner (Donnelly, 90 mins) Gallagher. Unused subs: McNicholas, Foster, Coates, Kearns.