Cliftonville beaten again; Linfield go top as Ballymena lose to Crusaders
Coleraine 4 Cliftonville 1
CLIFTONVILLE started 2019 the way they ended 2018, with another heavy defeat, this time at Coleraine.
Barry Gray’s side have now conceded 17 goals in their last four defeats, and at times defensively they looked a shambles at the Showgrounds on Tuesday.
Assistant boss Harry Fay admitted the goals the Reds are conceding are terrible.
“Look you can dress it up as much as you like but if you concede bad goals the way we have you are going to find it very, very hard to get anything out of a football match,” he said.
“The first two goals were horrendous and we got ourselves back into the game in the second half and got back to 2-1 but I think only a few minutes had passed and we conceded another goal that you wouldn’t see conceded in a schoolyard match.
“We have to get back to basics and try to get that elusive clean sheet, but when you concede bad goals you are struggling to win football matches.”
Bannsiders boss Rodney McAree, was delighted that his side managed to pick up 10 points over the festive period.
“At the end of the day if someone had said to me that we would pick up 10 points from a possible 12 over the Christmas period you probably would have been very happy with it,” he said.
“I’m delighted to win and felt the players deserved the win because they have put in tremendous work over the Christmas period and it was nice to start 2019 with three points.”
The home side had a good chance on seven minutes when Eoin Bradley broke the offside trap to latch on to Aaron Canning’s pass but Jamie McGovern, who had initially played the striker onside, got across to divert the danger.
Minutes later a defensive mix-up between Jamie Harney and Damien McNulty led to Jamie McGonigle breaking clear down the right. He cut inside but saw his well-hit left-footed effort saved at the second attempt by Richard Brush.
Coleraine deservedly took the lead on 20 minutes as Adam Mullan’s defensive splitting pass caught out the Reds again to find McGonigle and his low centre across the six-yard box found an unmarked Bradley, who side-footed home from close range.
More terrible defending by the Belfast side a minute later resulted in Coleraine doubling their lead as McGovern’s awful clearance only found Ciaron Harkin, who fed Stephen Lowry and the Coleraine skipper finished well.
Just after the half-hour mark, Brush had to make a top-drawer save to prevent Josh Carson’s 20-yard effort finding the net.
After starting the second half on the front foot Cliftonville went close on 62 minutes when a clever pass from Rory Donnelly found his strike partner Joe Gormley, but the frontman blasted wide from the edge of the box.
Cliftonville deservedly pulled a goal back four minutes later when Gormley broke clear down the left before cutting inside and laying the ball off to Liam Bagnall. He side-stepped Stephen Lowry before slotting the ball home.
On 74 minutes, Canning’s right wing centre found McGonigle and his powerful header at the back post was tipped over by Brush.
From the resulting corner the Reds failed to clear their lines and Canning was on hand to make no mistake, firing high into Brush’s net from 15 yards.
Coleraine substitute James McLaughlin netted a fourth with his first touch on 88 minutes when he rounded the out-rushing Brush, before slotting the ball home.
Ards 0 Linfield 2
THERE was new year delight for Linfield manager David Healy in Bangor on Tuesday afternoon.
A Jimmy Callacher brace beat Ards 2-0 and sent the Blues to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership, with Ballymena United losing to Crusaders.
Defender Callacher scored two second half headers at the Bangor Fuels Arena.
Healy said: “It’s great to be at the top of the league. I’m pleased for the players as they have worked hard to be in this position but, at the same time, we’re not getting carried away.
“It’s a cliche, but it’s true that the title isn’t handed out in January. Being top of the league doesn’t mean an awful lot at this stage, because there is lots of football still to be played and there’s not an awful lot between the top few teams.
“I’m more pleased with the fact we won today. We weren’t at our best in the first half, but we got the job done in the second half.
“Playing four games in two weeks is difficult for semi-pro players. There’s no way they can be expected to produce four top performances in a row, so I’m just pleased with the fact we won today.”
Colin Nixon’s Ards have a history of making life difficult for Healy and his Linfield team, and things were no different.
In fact, it was Ards who had the first big chance of the game. In the third minute, Jonah Mitchell found himself in a yard of space. The young midfielder drilled a low shot at goal, forcing Roy Carroll into a smart save.
As the half wore on Linfield improved, dominating possession, but the found Ards’ stubborn defence difficult to unlock.
While Ards held their own in the first half, Linfield upped their efforts in the second half.
Andrew Waterworth really should have scored in the 56th minute when he raced away from the Ards defence, but he was unable to score against his former club, screwing his one-one-one shot wide of Johnston’s goal.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 59th minute. Niall Quinn whipped over one of his trademark corner-kicks, picking out Callacher who powered a header beyond the reach of Johnston.
Linfield doubled their advantage with a copycat goal in the 75th minute. Again, Quinn supplied the perfect corner-kick delivery for Callacher.
Crusaders 3 Ballymena United 2
THE Crues knocked Ballymena off their perch at the top of the table, at least temporarily, coming out on the right side of a five-goal thriller at Seaview.
Paul Heatley volleyed in an early opener for Crusaders before Jude Winchester's close-range finish brought United level. Kyle Owens rifled in against his former club to restore the hosts' lead before half-time.
Ballymena improved on the restart and Steven McCullough smashed in a deserved leveller. However, the Crues dominated the latter stages and Heatley won it with a deflected strike to leave Stephen Baxter's side just three points behind new leaders Linfield.
Glenavon 1 Warrenpoint Town 3
PHILIP Donnelly was the hero for Warrenpoint, hitting a hat-trick against Glenavon at Mourneview.
Josh Daniels’ goal was too little too late for the Lurgan Blues as their recent slide in form continued.
Glentoran 2 Dungannon Swifts 4
DUNGANNON’S victory at the Oval meant Ronnie McFall’s side set an unenviable record – the longest league run without a win in Glentoran’s history.
Steven Gordon put the Glens into a 41st-minute lead only for Daniel Hughes to level for the visitors before the break.
After the break, goals from Hughes, Mark Patton and Paul McElroy put Dungannon in command, while John Herron's reply was no consolation to the hosts.
Newry City 1 Institute 2
IT WAS Michael McCrudden who was, yet again, to the fore for Institute as his two first-half goals sealed all three points against Newry.
As the visitors stretched their unbeaten run to six, McCrudden opened the scoring in the 12th minute when he beat the offside trap and calmly slotted his shot past Andrew Coleman.
The Institute skipper doubled his side's lead just before the break from the penalty spot after Joe McGready was fouled, while Newry pulled a goal back at the start of the second-half when Dale Montgomery converted another spot kick.