Linfield 1-1 Cliftonville
JOE Gormley pounced to ensure that Cliftonville maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 1-1 draw against Linfield at Windsor Park on Friday evening.
The Blues led early on through Jordan Stewart but missed chances to extend their lead before the break and paid the price when Gormley headed the leveller minutes before the hour-mark.
Despite both sides pressing for the winner, they were unable to find it, and both remain unbeaten so far this season.
Reds’ boss Paddy McLaughlin acknowledged he was happy his side took a point from the game but admits there was slight disappointment they didn’t leave with all three, which he believes they would have deserved.
“We’re delighted with the point,” acknowledged McLaughlin.
“Before the game when we’re coming to the home of the champions on the back of a good performance and good result for them on Tuesday night. They were going to come into it with their tails up so it was a difficult place to come.
“It goes to show how well we played tonight. There is a slight hint of disappointment there; we’re not totally disappointed because like I say, it is a tough place to come, but I think in the overall balance of play we were the better side.
“We played the better football and created the most chances, especially late in the game and we’ve had a good chance to win it right at the death.
“There’s that wee hint of disappointment in there but I’m so proud of the players. The response from being 1-0 down at half-time to come back and perform the way they did…
“I thought we were excellent in the first half and it was even better in the second half. There was just a wee slight tip of disappointment that we didn’t win the game because I think we deserved it.”
McLaughlin named an unchanged starting 11 from last weekend’s 1-0 win over Warrenpoint Town, but there were returns on the bench for Paul O’Neill and Rory Hale after injury.
Linfield took the lead after seven minutes when Chris Shields released William Chadwick down the left channel and the winger cut the ball across to Jordan Stewart whose shot took a slight deflection and went past Declan Dunne to make it 1-0.
Stewart could have had a second just before the quarter hour mark, but he hooked over from the edge of the area after Kirk Millar’s corner was only half cleared.
It took the Reds 17 minutes to spring into action; Joe Gormley saw an opening and his low shot was bravely blocked by Jimmy Callacher.
Just after the half hour mark, Jamie McDonagh sent in a dangerous cross that couldn’t find its way to Ryan Curran in the middle; possession was recycled and a cross from the left was headed over by McDonagh.
Stephen Fallon missed a gilt-edged chance to double his side’s lead from a low Kirk Millar cross which he scooped over the bar and on the stroke of half-time, William Chadwick raced through on goal, but Jonny Addis did just enough to get to the ball ahead of the Blues’ midfielder to ensure that just a goal separated the sides at the midway point.
Trai Hume shot straight at Declan Dunne early in the second period as Linfield looked for some breathing space.
They were unable to find it, however, and on 57 minutes Cliftonville hit back and levelled. Jamie McDonagh delivered an inch-perfect cross from the right and Joe Gormley glanced it past Chris Johns with a downward header to score his fourth league goal of the season to make it 1-1.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, the visitors almost found themselves in front when Joe Gormley knocked the ball down for Rory Hale who got into the area and laid the ball off to Ryan Curran, but the striker arrowed his effort wide of the post.
Linfield had the chance to claim all three points through Stephen Fallon, but he fizzed an effort across the face of goal and narrowly wide.
In the end, both sides were forced to settle for a share of the spoils as Cliftonville maintain their five-point gap of last season’s league winners – albeit David Healy’s side can move within two points if they win their game in hand.
LINFIELD: Johns, Newberry, Shields, Callacher, Millar (Quinn 59), Hume, Stewart (Salam 73), Clarke, Fallon, Chadwick (Green 58’), Palmer (Donnelly 73).
CLIFTONVILLE: Dunne, Lowe, Addis, Turner, Ives, C Curran, Gallagher, Doherty, R Curran, McDonagh (Hale 59), Gormley (O’Neill 83).
REFEREE: Keith Kennedy