Cliftonville secure top-six spot with win at Portadown
Danske Bank Premiership: Portadown 1 Cliftonville 2
CLIFTONVILLE secured their top-six spot in the Danske Bank Premiership with victory at Portadown on Saturday night and will now turn their sights to reeling in those in front of them.
The Reds were two to the good by the half-hour mark at Shamrock Park as leading scorer Ryan Curran grabbed a brace with some clinical finishing. While a deflected effort from Ben Tilney got Portadown back into contention before the break, Cliftonville weren’t left to rue some wasteful finishing as they held on for the three points.
The result moved Cliftonville up to fifth in the table, six points behind Coleraine in second, and despite the fact they are guaranteed a play-off place for next season’s Uefa Europa Conference League, manager Paddy McLaughlin sees no reason to let up now.
“Second place is a realistic target, but it’s a realistic target for four or five teams and I am sure everybody has probably got their eyes on it,” the Derry man said.
“With so many full-time clubs, staying in touch with the leaders and those clubs was always important to us and we’ve done that up to now, so we deserve our place in the top-six, but it’s how high can we go – that’s the challenge now for the players.”
“If we keep playing the way we can play, it’s not out of our reach but we are delighted to get a shot at the European games and, if we can do it without the play-offs, that would be brilliant but if it ends up being a play-off place for us then so be it.”
Elsewhere on Saturday night, Linfield moved to within touching distance of a third straight title thanks to a 2-1 win at home to Ballymena. The Blues went into the game knowing that, following Coleraine’s 1-1 draw with Glentoran on Friday, a win would put them 11 points clear of their nearest rivals. And they didn’t disappoint.
Mark Haughey headed the hosts in front before a superb Shay McCartan free-kick put Ballymena deservedly level at the break. Linfield controlled the second-half and Shayne Lavery headed in the winner from Kirk Millar's cross.
Also on Friday night, Crusaders edged closer to securing their own top-six spot with a 6-1 hammering of Glenavon at Seaview, while Larne were another side among the goals in a 5-0 victory over Warrenpoint at Inver Park. Basement clubs Carrick Rangers and Dungannon Swifts played out a 1-1 draw at Taylor’s Avenue.