Glentoran 2–2 Cliftonville
Cliftonville left it late for the third successive trip on the road as Jim Magilton’s men came from 2-0 down at the break to secure a 2-2 draw with Glentoran at The Oval on Tuesday evening.
It was a game of two halves in East Belfast: the first dominated by the hosts who struck twice at the end of the opening half through Aidan Wilson and Bobby Burns.
Ronan Hale gave Cliftonville a much-needed lifeline after the restart, but it looked as though their dominant second period would count for nothing until Odhran Casey popped up with a glancing header five minutes into added time to secure a share of the points and make it 12 league games without defeat.
Reds’ boss Jim Magilton believed the difference in performance in each half was night and day and praised Odhran Casey’s courage in securing the late leveller.
“The performance was night and day in terms of first half and second half performances,” he said.
“We’ve to hand the opposition massive credit. Glentoran were excellent in the first half - they didn’t give us a breath.
“We were poor, the passing was poor and the ball retention was poor. There were so many things wrong with our first-half performance.
“One thing that we’ve always managed to show is courage and we didn’t show enough of that.
“In the second-half, we changed the shape. We needed to pin them back and we did.
“Again, we showed our quality. We started to pass the ball and started to ask more questions of them.
“Ronan scores an absolutely magnificent goal and we kept going right until the end. Odhran Casey comes up trumps again with a last-ditch header and his courage is just unbelievable.”
Magilton made one change to the side that defeated Loughgall in the Irish Cup at the weekend.
Luke Kenny came into the starting XI at the expense of Stephen Mallon who dropped to the bench.
Glentoran began the game firmly on the front foot with Daire O’Connor seeing three early chances go a begging.
David Fisher slipped the former Cliftonville winger through, but David Odumosu stretched himself and parried. O’Connor curled a shot wide of the target and then swung a volley inches past the post.
At the other end, Glens' goalkeeper Oliver Webber smothered the ball at the feet of Shea Gordon. That was a rare break for the visitors who were struggling to get a hold of the game.
Odhran Casey’s attempted clearance bobbled and Junior sent a low effort wide of target. David Fisher then twisted and turned but was unable to steer his effort the right side of the post.
A succession of corners followed, but the hosts were unable to make the most of their dominant opening quarter to the game.
Daire O’Connor lifted another opportunity over the bar before Cliftonville showed some signs of life.
Joe Gormley ran onto a loose ball down the channel and his cut-back found Ronan Hale who got the shot wrong and scooped his attempt over the bar.
They thought they had hit the front against the run of play in the 32nd minute when Ronan Doherty clipped a through ball which Gormley nodded against the post after rising for a duel with Oliver Webber and Ronan Hale was on hand to turn home.
However, the celebrations were quickly halted when Gormley was adjudged to have strayed into an offside position in the build-up and the flag was raised.
Glentoran would break the deadlock six minutes later. Luke Kenny clipped Junior in the wide position and referee Ben McMaster awarded a free-kick.
Bobby Burns floated in the set-piece and Aidan Wilson climbed the highest to glance home and deservedly make it 1-0.
The Reds’ luck was firmly against them when Rory Hale’s high cross caused panic and Daire O’Connor’s attempted clearance was kept out by Webber on the stroke of half-time.
Defence then turned to attack and Bobby Burns picked up a stray pass from Stephen McGuinness and thumped low into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 at the break and give Cliftonville a mountain to climb.
Jim Magilton altered things at the break, replacing Luke Kenny with Stephen Mallon and they began the second period much better.
They have halved the deficit within three minutes of the restart through Ronan Hale, the in-from striker curling a shot high past Webber from the edge of the box for his 16th goal of the season.
They were almost back on terms soon after when Shea Kearney ran onto a back-heel from Gormley and floated a ball towards Hale that was cut out in the nick of time by Luke McCullough.
Ronan Hale then closed down McCullough in the corner with the defender pulling the striker down at the expense of a free-kick.
Rory Hale whipped in the resulting set-piece and Odhran Casey’s header may have flicked off the hand of McCullough, but referee McMaster ignored the subsequent penalty appeals.
A foul on Junior at the other end yielded similar shouts for a penalty, but the hosts were only awarded a free-kick and David Fisher curled his attempt over the wall and past the post.
With little under 20 minutes remaining, Hale missed the chance to restore parity. Substitute Sam Ashford clipped in a ball from wide that dropped for the 25-year-old, but he shot straight at Webber who gathered at the second attempt.
A further penalty appeal was waved away with a quarter of an hour remaining when Ronan Hale tumbled in the area with Aidan Wilson in close proximity - again McMaster was unmoved and booked Hale for his vocal protestations.
Another terrific chance went a begging through Hale and the visitors lost their spark in the aftermath.
Glentoran should have sealed it in injury-time when substitute’s Jay Donnelly and McCartan combined, but the latter dragged his shot wide of the post.
It was a chance they would rue as Cliftonville made it three late shows in a row with a last-gasp equaliser.
Jonny Addis fed Ben Wilson and Odhran Casey was unable to turn his cross home. Instead, the ball broke to Ronan Hale, and he hung another cross up, which Casey glanced off the post and in to make it 2-2 in dramatic fashion.
The Glens almost stole the points in the remaining moments when Sule picked out ex-Reds’ man Donnelly, only for Odumosu to stand tall and block his shot as the points were shared at the end of a thrilling encounter.
GLENTORAN: Webber, Kane, McCullough, Wilson, Burns, O’Connor (Wightman 78’), Sule, Clucas, Fisher (Donnelly 86’), Russell, Junior (McCartan 69’).
CLIFTONVILLE: Odumosu, Kearney, Casey, Addis, Kenny (Mallon HT’), McGuinness (Burns 61’), Doherty, Rory Hale, Gordon (Wilson 82’), Ronan Hale, Gormley (Ashford 61’).
REFEREE: Ben McMaster