Ballymena United 1–2 Cliftonville
Luke Turner’s goal proved the difference as Cliftonville ended their four-year wait for a win at the Ballymena Showgrounds with a 2-1 win over the Sky Blues on Tuesday evening.
Ryan Curran’s 18th-minute opener was cancelled out by Jack Henderson before the break, but Luke Turner lashed home the winner as Paddy McLaughlin’s side claimed their first victory over United since April 2018.
McLaughlin felt his side demonstrated both sides of the game tonight and was full of praise for them.
“It’s a tough place to come and they’re a really, really strong side,” he acknowledged.
“They’re really strong at home especially, big Davy has a really strong squad assembled this year and you see how hard they were to break down. We had to work really hard, and I thought some of the football we played in the first half was brilliant.
“In the second half, we showed the other side of our game. We had to grind it out a bit.
“The boys in the middle of the park were excellent in winning second balls. The boys at the back were excellent in winning their headers. I thought we showed both sides of the game at times and it was there for all to see tonight.”
☘️ It's just one of those mornings, isn't it? pic.twitter.com/JCSqcRF8j1— Cliftonville FC (@cliftonvillefc) August 24, 2022
The Reds boss named an unchanged starting 11 from the weekend win over Carrick Rangers as match-winner Joe Gormley had to make do with a place on the bench.
United were first to threaten through Steven McCullough, but he couldn’t keep his effort from distance, rising over the bar.
Hale brothers Rory and Ronan then worked a corner, though Ronan floated his shot wide of the target.
Tricky winger Stephen Mallon then took advantage of a slip from Kym Nelson and advanced to a shooting position, his effort failed to trouble Sean O’Neill.
The deadlock was broken after 18 minutes as Luke Turner played a one-two with Ronan Doherty and charged into the box before sliding the ball into the path of Ryan Curran to coolly flick past O’Neill for his third goal of the season.
Cliftonville sought a second and had several opportunities: Conor Keeley threw himself in the path of a Rory Hale effort and Scot Whiteside had to deflect a goal-bound Curran effort behind for a corner.
Curran and Hale again combined, and this time Sean O’Neill got a foot to Hale’s effort at the expense of a further corner, which came to nothing.
The Reds would live to rue their many misses when United drew level on 36 minutes.
The home side had a period of aerial dominance and when Colin Coates's header dropped to Jack Henderson, the Sky Blues midfielder curled a low shot past Nathan Gartside to make it 1-1.
Cliftonville almost restored their lead before the break with Stephen Mallon floating in a cross that Ronan Hale met, his header was cleared off the line by Conor Keeley and the follow-up header clipped the bar on the way over.
Mallon then unleashed a fierce effort that fizzed past the far post as the sides went in level at half-time.
United went close after the break through a dipping shot from summer signing David McDaid.
Thereafter, Cliftonville began to up the ante as Luke Turner clipped in a cross that Rory Hale was inches away from connecting with.
Substitute Jamie McDonagh then whipped in a telling cross that Rory Hale met, but Sean O’Neill was equal to it.
Ronan Hale then forced O’Neill to turn his goal-bound shot behind for a corner and Ryan Curran flashed a shot wide from McDonagh’s corner.
The pressure told on the Sky Blues and Cliftonville hit the front again with little over 20 minutes remaining.
Ryan Curran tried his luck with a tame effort that fell to Kris Lowe and the right-back found his opposite wing-man Turner who lashed home to make it 2-1.
Ballymena almost hit back with little over a quarter of an hour remaining when McDaid slipped in Jordan Gibson whose attempted lift over Nathan Gartside was intercepted by the Reds’ shot-stopper.
David McDaid let fly with a dipping effort from distance, but it was straight down the throat of Gartside.
Ballymena applied the late pressure, but Cliftonville held firm and saw the game out to claim a hard-earned three points on the road and make it back-to-back league wins.
BALLYMENA UNITED: O’Neill, Nelson, Whiteside, McDaid, Kelly, McElroy (Parkhouse 75’), McCullough, Henderson, Gibson, Keeley, Place (Kane 84’).
CLIFTONVILLE: Gartside, Lowe, Addis, Coates, Turner, Gallagher, Doherty (C Curran 86’), Rory Hale (Gormley 75’), Mallon (McDonagh 52’), R Curran, Ronan Hale (Casey 85’).
REFEREE: Andrew Davey