Cliftonville live to fight another day after Seaview comeback

Cliftonville's Colin Coates sees the funnier side of a head wound he sustained in Saturday's north Belfast derby at Seaview Picture by Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

Danske Bank Premiership: Crusaders 3 Cliftonville 3; Linfield 0 Larne 0

AS THE pendulum swung this way and that at Seaview on Saturday evening, the one at Windsor Park stayed stubbornly still.

Thirty minutes in on the Shore Road, Colin Coates headed in a bullet against his old club to give Cliftonville the lead and, as it was 0-0 in Linfield v Larne, top spot in the Irish League table.

With it staying that way at half-time, Reds fans must have been feeling a bit giddy on it. Then came a crazy second-half. First, Billy Joe Burns hit a stunning strike from the edge of the box to equalise for the Crues. Six minutes later, Ben Kennedy curled in a low shot past Luke McNicholas to put the hosts in front. Ten minutes after that, Jordan Forsythe converted from a Kennedy corner to leave Cliftonville reeling.

The springtime dreams of a shock title triumph were wilting in the heat of a north Belfast derby, some away fans were heading for the exits to mocking chants of ‘cheerio'. A home goal at Windsor Park, and a successful Linfield title defence would be official.

But nobody told Ryan Curran the title race was over. On 75 minutes, he popped up at the back post to smash home and give Cliftonville hope. Five minutes later, there he was loitering at the same post to slide in for the equaliser.

No goal came at Windsor Park, Cliftonville lived to fight another day. This Saturday, to be specific. With just the final round of fixtures to be played, Cliftonville remain a point behind the reigning champions, struggling to summon that knock-out blow in response to another Linfield slip-up.

This Saturday at 5.30pm, Cliftonville will be on their travels again. To the Oval, this time, while Linfield will enjoy home comforts against Coleraine.

Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin has already found vindication in the longevity of his side's challenge: “We live to fight another day, we will take it to the very last game and no-one predicted that at the start of the season,” he said of his part-timers.

“At one stage, the boys looked dead and buried at 3-1 down, but they showed the same determination and drive they have shown all year to pull it back to 3-3.

“Crusaders dominated parts of the game and that was disappointing, but it was good to see our boys recover and come back. Mistakes were made, but that can happen sometimes. It's important that we keep going into the last game, keep our heads down and go again.”

The title challenge of this weekend's opponents, Glentoran, has imploded in a run of form which has seen them win one in five – their latest defeat coming away to Coleraine on Saturday – so it's a game Cliftonville must believe is more than winnable.

“It'll be a tough game at the Oval and you never know what can happen, but it's great for the league to have two teams going toe-to-toe right until the end of the season,” McLaughlin added.

“It's important that we focus on our game now and, if we can deliver, you never know what could happen up the road.”

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