Linfield 0–0 Cliftonville
LINFIELD and Cliftonville shared the spoils at Windsor Park on Tuesday evening after playing out a goalless draw.
Linfield were the better side over the course of the 90 minutes as Nathan Gartside denied Joel Cooper either side of the break, although Cliftonville almost claimed a smash-and-grab victory but for Chris Johns to quickly react and thwart Ryan Curran in injury time.
Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin was pleased with what he saw from his side and praised their work-rate and quality throughout.
“I think both sides played really well,” he reflected.
“They created chances at both ends of the pitch. Concentrating on our boys, I thought they were excellent throughout the match. They played some brilliant football and I thought they finished the game stronger.
“Linfield are the champions of the league and full-time opposition, that is one thing that might be a disadvantage at times - midweek games against full-time opposition. Our boys are coming from work and they (Linfield) are probably coming in from some hotel around the corner freshened up.
“The work-rate and quality throughout the match from our boys was superb and it’s probably been as good as it has been for us all season. We can’t fault them for effort, just that last couple of per cent that you’re looking for to get the job done at Windsor Park. You have to be 100 per cent and our boys were sitting at 99. We’re so close to coming to a really tough venue and getting a win.
“We’re probably a couple of inches and a great save away from it. It’s a good point from us, we’re slightly disappointed that we didn’t win the match, but we’ll take our point at a really difficult venue and move on.”
McLaughlin made one change from the weekend's 2-2 draw with Glenavon as Joe Gormley returned to the starting line-up in place of Sean Moore.
Linfield were first to threaten when Andrew Clarke weaved his way past Jamie Robinson and curled a shot which Nathan Gartside spilt in front of Joel Cooper, although the offside flag would have denied the Linfield striker if he scored from the follow-up.
Cooper then controlled a pass on the edge of the area, turned and sent a snapshot over the bar.
It took almost 20 minutes for Cliftonville to force their first opening, but Ryan Curran shot harmlessly over the bar and then Ronan Hale sent an effort wide of the target.
Just before the half-hour mark, a Joel Cooper shot was pushed behind at the expense of a corner by Gartside and a few minutes later the best opening came.
Chris Shields hoisted in a cross from the left that Andrew Clarke met with his head, although his attempt came back off the outside of the post.
Linfield remained on the front foot before the break with Shields releasing Mulgrew with a fine pass over the top that Jamie Robinson was forced to cut out at the expense of a corner.
Joel Cooper then bent a shot agonisingly wide of the post as the sides went in at the interval with the game scoreless.
The hosts had the first opening of the second period when Joel Cooper hung a pass into the back post where Robbie McDaid knocked it down, but there was nobody there to test Nathan Gartside.
At the other end, Rory Hale let fly with an effort from 25 yards that took a deflection off Daniel Finlayson and behind for a corner.
The resulting set-piece was cut out and Cooper led a dangerous counterattack to the edge of the area. He found Andrew Clarke who in turn slipped in Matthew, but his effort was high and wide of the target.
Cammy Palmer shot wide at the near post and a training ground free-kick almost caught Cliftonville napping when Cooper found Shields and his cross was headed wide by Callacher at the back post.
With almost a quarter of an hour remaining, Nathan Gartside flung himself low to his left to turn away a low Cooper effort.
At this stage, it looked as though the sides were consigned to sharing the spoils, but Cliftonville finished stronger and almost forced a late winner.
A neat passage ended with substitute Jamie McDonagh sliding a square pass to Ronan Hale in the box, though a perfectly timed sliding challenge from Jimmy Callacher cleared any imminent threat.
Then Sean Moore slipped a short pass to Hale, and he released Ryan Curran for a golden opportunity, but Chris Johns was alert and cleared his lines as the sides shared the spoils at the end of the evening's play.
LINFIELD: Johns, Roscoe-Byrne, Shields, Callacher, Cooper, McDaid (Vertainen 76’), Clarke, Finlayson, Mulgrew, Clarke, Palmer (Devine 83’).
CLIFTONVILLE: Gartside, Lowe, Addis, Robinson, Turner, Gallagher, Doherty, Rory Hale (Moore 68’), R Curran, Ronan Hale, Gormley (McDonagh 78’).
REFEREE: Raymond Crangle