Crusaders 2-2 Cliftonville
CLIFTONVILLE missed the chance to cut the gap to four points on league leaders Larne after Ross Clarke struck with 10 minutes to go and ensure that Monday evening’s North Belfast derby finished in a 2-2 draw with Crusaders at Seaview.
The hosts led through a fantastic Jordan Forsythe free-kick, though Ryan Curran bundled home a leveller before the break and put his side on the cusp of a first victory in three and a half years on the Shore Road, converting from the spot after Rory Hale was felled.
However, Crusaders fought back and earned the point through a sensational strike from half-time substitute Clarke that ensured the sides would share the spoils at the end of an entertaining and keenly contested derby.
Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin admitted he was slightly disappointed his side didn’t come away with all three points, though acknowledged that any point won at Seaview is valuable.
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“That was a proper North Belfast derby, where have those games gone over the past couple of meetings?” questioned McLaughlin.
“The St Stephen’s Day game, I don’t think there was booking or a tackle made, and it was the complete opposite tonight. It was end to end and feisty at times and it was high energy and high tempo.
“I’m sure that anybody who was watching it would appreciate that both sides went toe to toe. Both sides gave it their all and came away with a point.
“We’re slightly disappointed, we obviously had chances to win it but coming to Crusaders is a difficult place to come. Any point is valuable, and we’ll take it and move onto Saturday.”
McLaughlin made two alterations to the side that was dumped out of the Irish Cup by Dungannon Swifts last time out.
Jonny Addis and Joe Gormley both dropped to the bench, with Odhran Casey and Ryan Curran coming into the starting eleven.
Crusaders were first to threaten on a wet and miserable night on the Shore Road. Paul Heatley played a delightful, lofted pass into the feet of Dean Ebbe, and Nathan Gartside was forced to turn away the striker’s effort with his foot.
At the other end, Rory Hale lead a breakaway move that ended up falling into the path of younger brother Ronan, whose shot with the outside of the boot whistled inches wide.
Talisman Philip Lowry sent a bullet header past the post from Ebbe’s cross and the hosts forged ahead after 26 minutes.
Chris Gallagher was adjudged to have illegally halted the run of Daniel Larmour and Jordan Forsythe expertly curled his free-kick over the wall and into the net. Ebbe went close to doubling the lead, though his angled drive landed on the roof of the net.
Ten minutes before the break, Cliftonville hit back and levelled.
Kris Lowe beat Jude Winchester to the ball and clipped in a cross that Luke Turner saw blocked on the line by Billy-Joe Burns. Ryan Curran followed in though and bundled the ball over the line for his first goal since the end of November, due to an injury layoff.
Crusaders almost went back in front from another pinpoint Ebbe cross that Jude Winchester somehow headed wide.
In first-half injury time, Ronan Hale slipped in Ronan Doherty inside the 18-yard box and he kept his composure to slot past Tuffey, only for Billy-Joe Burns to make a vital goal-line clearance and ensure it remained level at the interval.
The second half failed to really ignite to life and it was off-the-ball coming togethers that plagued the first 20 minutes of the second period, forcing referee Chris Morrison to hand out numerous yellow cards.
Rory Hale went close to edging Cliftonville ahead with a shot from distance that deflected off Philip Lowry and behind for a corner, which would come to nothing in the end.
With 20 minutes remaining, Cliftonville had the chance to hit the front when Rory Hale looked to get onto the end of a Ryan Curran flick-on but was upended by Josh Robinson and referee Morrison pointed to the spot.
Ryan Curran had the chance to double his account for the evening and sent Tuffey the wrong way before rolling the ball into the opposite corner to give his side the lead on his first start since December 6.
Crusaders showed their resolve and pulled level 10 minutes from time.
Paul Heatley steered the ball into the path of substitute Ross Clarke and he cut infield before firing in a low shot from 20 yards that snuck inside the post and made it 2-2.
Both sides had the opportunity to snatch all three points in added time.
Cliftonville came the closest when Rory Hale sent a long ball down the channel to Ronan and his low cross was somehow skewed wide by Joe Gormley.
At the other end, Nathan Gartside flapped at a high ball in on top and the loose ball broke to substitute Declan Caddell, though he slashed at a chance and fired high over the bar as the sides shared the spoils at the end of a riveting derby affair.
CRUSADERS: Tuffey, BJ Burns (Heggarty 82’), Robinson, Weir (Caddell 72’), Lowry, Ebbe (Owens 71’), Forsythe, Winchester (Clarke 46’), Larmour, Heatley, McKeown.
CLIFTONVILLE: Gartside, Lowe, Casey, Coates, Turner, Gallagher (McDonagh 86’), Rory Hale, Doherty, Ronan Hale, Moore (Gormley 86’), R Curran (Parkhouse 78’).
REFEREE: Christopher Morrison