Cliftonville 2-1 Coleraine
Cliftonville edged out title-chasing Coleraine to claim all three points in a 2-1 win at Solitude on Saturday afternoon.
Jamie Harney headed the hosts ahead on the stroke of half-time and Paul O’Neill doubled the lead just after the hour mark.
The two-goal cushion lasted only a matter of minutes as Coleraine were awarded a penalty which was dispatched by Ben Doherty.
The Bannsiders’ push for a leveller was dealt a blow, however, as Eoin Bradley was shown a second yellow card and dismissed as Cliftonville held off the 10-men to close the gap on Larne in fourth place.
Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin believes that Coleraine’s sparkling form going into the encounter shows how hard his side had to work to secure victory and felt it was fully deserved.
“It was a brilliant win,” said McLaughlin.
“Coleraine came into the game on a 17-game unbeaten run - a phenomenal record at any level, especially in the Irish League because it is such a competitive league as there’s not much between any of the sides in and around the top end of the division.
“For Coleraine to go 17 games unbeaten and for us to put that to an end today goes to show you how well and how hard we’ve to work and how hard we had to play. I thought the boys were superb and fully deserved their victory.”
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Paul O'Neill doubles @cliftonvillefc's lead at Solitude.
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McLaughlin made two changes to the side that were held to a goalless draw in Larne last weekend as Daniel Kearns and Paul O’Neill came back into an attacking starting 11.
Coleraine had an early penalty shout turned down when Lyndon Kane’s cross was flicked on and Ryan O’Reilly tangled with Curtis Allen, but referee Shane Andrews was unconvinced.
At the other end, Gareth Deane did well to divert an angled Paul O’Neill drive behind for a corner.
It was a fiercely contested encounter and a flashpoint arrived just before the quarter hour mark as Jamie Harney and Eoin Bradley clashed off the ball with referee Andrews booking both players and awarding Coleraine a free-kick.
The resulting set-piece from Bradley hit the Cliftonville wall and Stephen Lowry resurrected the move and floated a cross into the path of Bradley who couldn’t get a clean shot away as McCarey gathered.
Aaron Canning then sent in a dangerous cross from the right and Bradley was unable to steer it in with the Reds’ defence eventually bundling the danger away.
A few half chances fell to the home side with Aaron Donnelly a few yards away from a free-kick and Rory Hale’s shot taking a deflection off Canning that came to nothing.
Eoin Bradley saw a golden opportunity go a begging after McCarey failed to get enough on a Josh Carson cross and the striker stabbed the loose ball wide.
The deadlock was broken at Solitude two minutes before half-time as Aaron Donnelly guided a telling cross to the back post where Jamie Harney powerfully headed beyond Gareth Deane to give his side a 1-0 lead at the interval.
Daire O’Connor shot over the bar from the edge of the area early in the second period and on the hour-mark, a Ben Doherty free-kick arrived through the crowded area to Bradley who failed to get enough on his header which McCarey subsequently claimed.
Cliftonville would double their lead moments later when Rory Hale’s corner from the left was met by Harney and diverted behind for another corner by Lyndon Kane. Hale’s next attempt was met by Ryan O’Reilly and Paul O’Neill swept the ball home on the turn to score his fourth goal since his January arrival.
The Reds’ two-goal lead was short lived as on 67 minutes, Jamie Harney clipped Eoin Bradley and referee Shane Andrews pointed to the spot.
Ben Doherty took on Aaron McCarey and sent him the wrong way with a powerfully dispatched spot-kick that made it game-on midway through the second-half.
The Bannsiders pushed on for an equaliser but their cause wasn’t helped by Bradley receiving a second yellow card for a late challenge on Ryan O’Reilly and Oran Kearney’s men were reduced to 10 for the final quarter of an hour.
Cliftonville had a penalty appeal turned down when substitute Ronan Doherty sent O’Neill in the clear. The striker took a heavy touch and went down with Deane in close proximity, but Andrews wasn’t convinced and instead awarded a goal-kick.
Liam Bagnall was forced to throw himself in the path of a stinging Ben Doherty shot from the edge of the box and Michael McCrudden swivelled and shot past the post at the other end.
Coleraine had one final opportunity in injury time as Gareth Deane punted a long free-kick into the Cliftonville area and Aaron Canning flashed a shot into the side netting with the game’s final chance as the Reds held on for all three points ahead of welcoming Glentoran to Solitude on Tuesday evening.
CLIFTONVILLE: McCarey, Lowe, Harney, O’Reilly, Donnelly, Kearns (McCrudden 80), Bagnall, O’Connor (Doherty 68)Hale, R Curran, O’Neill.
COLERAINE: Deane, Kane, Canning, Jarvis (McLaughlin 79), Doherty, Lowry, Bradley, Carson, O’Donnell, Glackin, Allen (Shevlin 55).
REFEREE: Shane Andrews