Cliftonville 0–0 Larne
CLIFTONVILLE missed the chance to take the lead in the title race after being held to a 0-0 draw at home to Larne on Saturday afternoon.
Jamie McDonagh came closest to breaking the deadlock with a thumping effort that came off the bar inside a quarter of an hour, and in the second period David McDaid saw a goal-bound shot cleared on the line by Luke Turner.
In the end, the points were shared at Solitude for the second weekend in succession as the hosts remain a point behind Linfield in the race for the Gibson Cup.
Reds’ boss Paddy McLaughlin didn’t feel he or his side were under any added pressure approaching the game and felt the sides cancelled each other out over the course of the ninety minutes.
“I didn’t go into the game, and I don’t think the players went into the game under any kind of pressure,” admits McLaughlin.
“We knew we were playing against a good side and the pressure of going and getting a result was the only thing we had on us all week. No matter what happened last night, I didn’t feel pressure and I’m sure the players were the same.
“We knew we were playing against one of the top sides in the division. They play good football and they’re similar to ourselves.; they try and do the right things in playing through the three zones and if you let them do that, they’ll hurt you badly.
“We knew we were coming into a tough game and one we had to work hard in. I think we did that, but I don’t think our decision making and that wee bit of lack of quality in the final third was evident throughout the game.
“Bar Jamie hitting the crossbar and Joe having his shot blocked by Graham Kelly, outside of that I don’t remember their ’keeper pulling off too many great saves.
“That can happen, games can be like that and when you’re playing against a good side, they can nullify your threat and we probably did the same to them.”
McLaughlin made three changes to his starting eleven from last weekend’s 0-0 draw at home to Linfield.
Jamie McDonagh returned from suspension and there were also starts for Kris Lowe and Ronan Doherty as Colin Coates, Conor McDermott and Paul O’Neill all dropped to the bench.
Larne started the brighter and had the first half-chance through Ben Doherty, though he hooked a shot off target.
Jamie McDonagh almost marked his return to action with a trademark strike, letting fly with a thumping shot from 25 yards that crashed off the underside of the bar with Rohan Ferguson beaten.
Moments later, McDonagh sent a free-kick into the area and Kris Lowe’s flick-on fell nicely to Joe Gormley whose effort was blocked by Mark Randall.
Midway through the half, Lee Bonis drove forward and fed Doherty but his shot was straight at McNicholas.
At the other end, Joe Gormley let the ball run through for McDonagh, but he clipped the ball over the crossbar from a tight angle.
Ryan Curran then found Kris Lowe inside the area. The right-back was caught in two minds and fired over the bar.
Larne had the half’s last opportunity, but Mark Randall floated a high ball over as it remained scoreless at the break.
The visitors were forced into a half-time switch after Lee Bonis couldn’t shake off a knock sustained late in the first period and former Cliftonville striker David McDaid entered proceedings.
His impact was almost immediate as he was slipped through into the area, Luke McNicholas turned away his initial effort and the follow-up was somehow cleared off the line by Luke Turner.
McDaid had another sighting though McNicholas got down low to push away the effort that was destined for the bottom corner.
Just before the hour-mark, a corner from the right went all the way across the area to Jonny Addis, he hooked the ball high across and it fell to Luke Turner whose downward header was scooped up by Rohan Ferguson.
Levi Ives then sent the ball across the face of goal, but Joe Gormley was unable to meet it.
The Reds desperately pushed for the opener in the last ten minutes, Conor McDermott’s cross was half-cleared, and Rory Hale let fly with a curling effort over the top.
They would have one final opportunity deep into injury time with a late Levi Ives free-kick, but the left-back was unable to lift the ball over Rohan Ferguson and at the conclusion it finished all square with the Reds missing the chance to hit the summit with three games remaining.
CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas, Lowe (McDermott 52), Addis, Turner, Ives, Gallagher, Doherty (O’Neill 76), Kearns (Hale 67), McDonagh (C Curran 67), R Curran, Gormley.
LARNE: Ferguson, Balmer, Kelly (Jarvis 87), Watson, Sule, Herron (Mitchell 87), Nasseri (Lynch 62), Randall (Hale 76), Doherty, Bonis (McDaid 46), Cosgrove.
REFEREE: Tony Clarke