Reds’ title dreams dented by Swifts as Linfield keep in touch with Larne

Pacemaker Press 24224
Dungannon v Cliftonville  Sports Direct Premiership
Dungannon's James Knowles celebrates Ben Gallagher's goal  during today's game at Stangmore Park, Dungannon.  Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Dungannon v Cliftonville Dungannon's James Knowles celebrates Ben Gallagher's goal in the Sports Direct Premiership match against Cliftonville at Stangmore Park Picture: David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press (David Maginnis/David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press)

The race for the Gibson Cup looks like it’s down to a two-horse contest after Cliftonville were undone by Dungannon 3-1 at Stangmore Park on Saturday.

Chris Curran got the Reds back on level terms on 57 minutes after Thomas Maguire had out the home side in front after just nine minutes.

But it was the Swifts who finished the stronger, with Ben Gallagher (83) and former Reds player James Knowles (90) scoring the goals which ultimately condemned Cliftonville to a second defeat of the week following Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss to Linfield.

With the Blues winning 2-0 at home to Ballymena, thanks to goals from Kyle McClean and Matt Fitzpatrick, Cliftonville are now six points behind leaders Larne and five adrift of David Healy’s men.

“We huffed and puffed and it was a hugely disappointing afternoon for us,” Cliftonville manager Jim Magilton told BBC Sport NI.

“Our defensive record has been applauded all season but we looked fragile and that’s not good. We’ve things to work on for next week.

“We’ve lost two on the bounce - it will show what’s in the dressing room. When things are going well, when’s everybody’s free-flowing and there’s fluidity and everybody wants the ball.

“I’ve been in all those dressing rooms and the reverse of it. We’ll soon see who the characters are.”

Linfield's Matthew Fitzpatrick  celebrates his goal  with Linfield's Christopher Mc kee     In today's   game at Windsor pk Belfast  Linfield v Ballymena utd    in the Sports Direct Premiership  on  3 /2 /2024  Pacemaker Press
Linfield's Matt Fitzpatrick celebrates scoring against Ballymena (Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press)

Meanwhile, Crusaders grabbed their first consecutive wins since October as they saw off Glenavon 2-0 at Seaview on Saturday.

Jude Winchester opened the scoring with a wickedly deflected shot from outside the box on 10 minutes that left Mark Byrne in the Lurgan Blues’ goal completely wrong-footed.

Nine minutes after the interval Ben Kennedy completed the scoring, with a smart header from eight yards Firstly, out, after a right-wing cross from Ross Clarke.

The win solidified the Crues position in fifth place, as they appear to have turned a corner from a miserable run of form that has stretched the whole way throughout winter.

Crusaders' Ben Kennedy celebrates with his team-mates after his goal against Glenavon at Seaview in Belfast.  

Photo by Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press
Crusaders Fc v Glenavon Fc Crusaders' Ben Kennedy celebrates with his team-mates after his goal against Glenavon at Seaview in Belfast. Picture: Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press (Alan Weir/Alan Weir/Pacemaker Press)

or Glenavon, they fall to 10th in the table after Dungannon Swifts surprise victory over Cliftonville at Stangmore Park and now find themselves five points adrift of Carrick Rangers in seventh spot, that may offer a back door route into Europe through the play-off system.

With Stephen Baxter still serving out a ban for criticising match officials in January, it was up to Crusaders assistant manager Jeff Spiers to outline how management can keep motivation high at the club with the title race out of sight.

“Firstly, we are delighted with the win today, I thought it was reasonably comprehensive overall” he said.

“I think the game lost a bit of its rhythm when we got the second goal from Ben, probably played in part by us trying to re-introduce the likes of Billy-Joe (Burns) off the bench and a few others who are just coming back from injury and finding their feet.

“For us it is all about the momentum going forward towards the European Play-offs. Momentum is something that you can’t turn on and off like a switch, so it’s not possible for us to say we are safe in the top six so therefor we take the foot off the gas for six weeks, because you might not get that momentum back.” He added.

“We will keep pushing and pushing the players and we also have the motivation of being back only one point behind Glentoran in fourth spot, so that is our next challenge.”

Bottom club Newry slumped to defeat a resurgent Coleraine side, Conor McKendry and Matthew Shevlin on target in the first half while Loughgall and Carrick played out a 3-3 draw at Lakeview Park.