Cliftonville 1–1 Crusaders
CLIFTONVILLE were left cursing their luck as David Cushley turned home a last gasp equaliser to ensure that Crusaders would snatch a point from the North Belfast derby for the third game in succession after a 1-1 draw at Solitude on Tuesday evening.
In their first game back in front of spectators, Daire O’Connor had the hosts in front early on, but Crusaders grew into the game and had three glorious chances to equalise in the second period.
The hosts failed to make the most of their late openings and Cushley made sure that Paddy McLaughlin’s side would pay the price deep into injury time.
McLaughlin admits he was disappointed with the result and their failure to make the most of their chances late on.
“We’re disappointed with the result because I think we were a lot better than Crusaders were on the night,” he said.
“I think we were excellent, especially in the first half and the ’keeper has pulled off a couple of great saves late in the game to stop it going 2-0.
“If we the game goes 2-0 then the game is over, but we’ve got to be more clinical and more ruthless when we’ve had chances to put the game to bed.
“I think over the course of the season, a few times we’ve let teams off the hook and it’s come back to haunt us. That’s the only small disappointment from such a good performance.”
The Reds’ boss was forced into one change from the side that defeated Glentoran 2-0 at The Oval the last time out as Seanan Foster replaced the injured Garry Breen in defence.
Cliftonville attacked and from the off and forced a second minute corner that was only half cleared by the visitors and Chris Curran sent in a snapshot which Crusaders’ debutant ’keeper Neil Shields pushed behind for a further corner.
Levi Ives went short to Aaron Donnelly from the set-piece and Donnelly’s cross was flicked on by the head of Michael McCrudden and the ball dropped for Daire O’Connor who feigned a shot before blasting high to the roof of the net to make it 1-0 to the delight of the home support.
Jamie McGonigle curled an effort a few yards off target in response for Stephen Baxter’s side who would lose Jordan Owens to injury after only 11 minutes.
Midway through the half, goal-scorer O’Connor flicked the ball forward and drove in a low shot that Shields was able to hang onto.
He then sent the ball across the face of goal where Chris Curran tried his luck, but the captain’s effort was steered off the line for a corner which would come to nothing.
Crusaders did look more menacing towards the end of the half with David Cushley having a headed opportunity that Levi Ives bundled clear as Cliftonville went in at the interval with a slender lead.
Crusaders began the second half on the front foot with David Cushley blasting over from a few yards out.
On the hour mark, Cushley sent a low free-kick into the wall, and he flashed a shot inches over the bar from the rebound.
With little over a quarter of an hour remaining, Cushley spurned a third successive chance. With his back to goal he was able to get a shot away and it whistled just past the post.
Cliftonville were unable to threaten until the dying embers of the second period and again they had three chances to double their advantage.
Rory Hale clipped a free-kick over the top to Daire O’Connor who failed to turn the ball past Shields who did just enough.
Substitute Ryan Curran then won the ball back on halfway and charged forward before sending in a low cross that Hale wasn’t able to convert.
A minute into three added, Ronan Doherty found fellow substitute Paul O’Neill whose flick on at the near post was somehow kept out again by Shields.
Déjà vu would strike in the final minute of added time as Crusaders forced a throw-in deep in the Cliftonville half.
It was half cleared by the hosts before the ball was hoisted back into the area and Declan Caddell’s cut-back was turned home by Cushley to ensure his side salvaged a point for the third derby in succession.
Crusaders’ boss Stephen Baxter felt his side recovered and work themselves into the game after going behind and was pleased with the chances his side created.
“I thought that Cliftonville came out like caged lions in the first 15 minutes,” reflected Baxter.
“They got a really good goal; they were hungry and did really well, which we didn’t really cope with as well as I would have liked.
“I thought we worked our way into the game really well and started to put them under a lot of pressure.
“In the second half we were under a lot of pressure, and they got the three chances, but we created half a dozen chances of our own, which was the pleasing aspect of the game tonight.”
CLIFTONVILLE: McCarey, Foster, Lowe, Harney (Doherty 61), Ives, Donnelly , C Curran, Bagnall, Hale, O’Connor (O’Neill 90), McCrudden (R Curran 72).
CRUSADERS: Shields, BJ Burns, Weir, Kennedy (Thompson 34), McGonigle, Caddell, O’Rourke, Owens (Cushley 11), Brown, Larmour, Clarke (Burns 80).
REFEREE: Tim Marshall