Cliftonville 0–0 Linfield
CLIFTONVILLE remain a point behind league leaders Linfield after the top two played out a goalless draw at Solitude on Saturday evening.
Chris Johns was forced to deny Joe Gormley either side of the break, but Linfield finished strong and could have stolen all three points at the death from a Jordan Stewart free-kick, but the spoils were shared in the end and Reds’ boss Paddy McLaughlin felt it was a fair result.
“I don’t think any team deserved to lose such a game, it was brilliant,” McLaughlin reflected.
“I’m sure to watch as a neutral, both sets of supporters stayed behind and applauded their own team off, I’m sure they loved to see the effort and quality put in.
“It was a high profile and high intense game, I thought there was some excellent play throughout the game. I definitely don’t think anybody deserved to lose the game, so I’m sure we’ll both settle for a point and move onto next week.”
McLaughlin named an unchanged starting eleven from Tuesday evening's victory over Portadown ahead of the crunch top of the table clash.
Very little happened in the opening quarter of an hour in North Belfast with Linfield eventually carving out the first opportunity.
Chris McKee slipped in Christy Manzinga for a one-on-one, though Luke McNicholas made himself big and parried the danger.
On the half-hour mark, Kirk Millar flicked the ball into the path of Chris McKee who snatched at his opportunity.
The hosts had their first serious effort on 36 minutes when Joe Gormley profited from a Conor Pepper error, but he took an extra touch and saw his shot saved by Chris Johns with Chris Shields blocking Ryan Curran’s follow-up.
Chris Gallagher let fly with an effort that rose over the bar and just before the break Joe Gormley clipped a ball to the back post, where Ryan Curran glanced wide as the half-finished scoreless.
Cliftonville started the second period brighter with a long throw from Luke Turner headed on by Ryan Curran and the ball fell to Joe Gormley who shot over the bar while off balance.
Conor McDermott then attacked the area and picked out Ryan Curran whose fancy flick found its way into the path of Gormley, but Chris Johns turned the striker’s effort behind for a corner.
The resulting set-piece was played short and Daniel Kearns cross was nodded wide by Jonny Addis at the back post.
Linfield grew into the game as the half progressed with Christy Manzinga slicing wide under pressure from Addis.
With little over a quarter of an hour remaining, Jordan Stewart showed neat footwork along the end line and his stinging drive was parried by Luke McNicholas before Jamie Mulgrew hooked the follow-up effort wide.
Manzinga then let fly with a driven shot that rose over the bar and a few minutes later sent an angled shot whistling across the face of goal.
The Blues' talisman sent in a near-post cross that McNicholas gathered and deep into injury-time the Champions had a golden opportunity from a free-kick on the edge of the box, however Jordan Stewart fired inches wide of the post as the spoils were shared at Solitude.
CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas, McDermott (Lowe 90), Addis, Coates, Turner, Ives, Gallagher, Kearns (Doherty 79), R Curran, O’Neill (C Curran 88), Gormley.
LINFIELD: Johns, Shields, Callacher, Millar (Devine 80), Manzinga, Hall, Clarke, McKee (Stewart 67), McClean, Fallon (Mulgrew 11), Pepper.
REFEREE: Andrew Davey