NIFL Premiership

Cliftonville 1–0 Linfield 

Cliftonville went top of the table for the first time since the beginning of October after birthday boy Ronan Doherty struck early in their 1-0 win over Linfield at Solitude on Tuesday evening. 

Doherty celebrated his 27th birthday with the only goal of the game inside the opening quarter of an hour and despite Linfield piling on the pressure, the champions were unable to rescue a share of the spoils, which they did in the January fixture at Solitude, 12 months ago. 

Reds’ boss Paddy McLaughlin praised Doherty’s match-winning strike and was relieved that his side survived Linfield’s onslaught in the last quarter of an hour. 

“It was brilliant and a great finish,” he reflected. 

“It was a great build-up play, I don’t even think he put his boot through it. I think he just passed it into the net, which makes it even classier. It was a great finish and goal worthy of winning any game. It was hard fought. 

“Linfield are champions for a reason, they’re really, really strong. They came at us with everything in the last 10 or 15 minutes, especially. We’re delighted we kept a clean sheet. We said to the boys in there, to keep a clean sheet against Linfield you have to be doing something really well. 

“You’ve got to be working yourself into the ground, throwing yourself in front of the ball and matching runners and putting the head on everything that that you need. Fair play to them, it’s a great three points and a great clean sheet. We’re delighted to get out of here because like I say, Linfield threw everything at us for the last 10 or 15 minutes.”

Cliftonville struck first under the Solitude lights after 12 minutes. Sean Moore linked up with Ronan Hale and the striker’s flick-on released Ronan Doherty who ran onto the pass and fired low past Chris Johns to celebrate his 27th birthday with his first goal of the campaign.  

A second almost followed when a short corner routine saw Chris Gallagher clip in a cross and Joe Gormley’s knockdown broke to Jonny Addis who headed over the bar. 

On the half-hour mark, Cammy Palmer caught Levi Ives with a stray elbow and referee Tim Marshall opted to book the Blues’ midfielder. 

The visitors had a penalty appeal waved away on the 34th minute when Eetu Vertainen sent in a low cross and Joel Cooper tumbled in a tussle with Levi Ives- though Marshall wasn’t convinced. 

The closest the champions came to a response before half-time was when Daniel Finlayson curled a shot wide of the post as Doherty’s strike was the difference at the break. 

Linfield began the second period on the front foot as Joel Cooper burst forward and slipped in Finlayson, but he was quickly closed down by Levi Ives. 

Cooper was again the Blues’ focal point as he ran onto a pass and saw his shot across the face of goal turned behind by Nathan Gartside. 

Rory Hale challenges Chris Shields

Rory Hale challenges Chris Shields

The resulting corner was swung in by Matthew Clarke and Finlayson’s header was steered off the line by Ives. 

Blues substitute Andrew Clarke controlled and picked out Cooper with a cut-back, but his effort was deflected behind for a corner and came to nothing. 

Cliftonville sat in deep as they tried to see things out and their commitment was typified when Kris Lowe charged down Chris Shields deep into added time. 

In the end, they managed to see the game out to head to the league summit for the first time since the beginning of October and open up a five-point lead over Linfield in the process. 

CLIFTONVILLE: Gartside, Lowe, Addis (McDonagh 61’), Turner, Ives, Gallagher, Doherty (Casey 83’), Rory Hale (Coates 83’), Moore, Ronan Hale, Gormley (C Curran 78’). 

LINFIELD: Johns, Roscoe-Byrne, Newberry (Devine 81’), Shields, Cooper, McDaid (A Clarke 60’), Clarke, Finlayson, Mulgrew, Vertainen (McKee 71’), Palmer (Stewart 71’). 

REFEREE: Tim Marshall