Larne put final nail in the coffin of Cliftonville’s title hopes

The Inver Park side avenged their cup defeat from the weekend and stay two points ahead of Linfield, who beat Carrick 3-2

Cliftonville v Larne
Cliftonville v Larne Tensions run high in last night’s Cliftonville v Larne encounter at Solitude Picture: Pacemaker

Sports Direct Premiership Cliftonville 0 Larne 2

LARNE made sure there would be no double-defeat to Cliftonville as they claimed a 2-0 win at Solitude last night.

Luke Kenny scored an own-goal in the opening minutes to give the visitors the lead, before goal-machine Andy Ryan grabbed a second goal after an hour to put Tiernan Lynch’s side in pole position to retain the league title, heading into the top-six split this weekend.

Cliftonville showed promise but lost their legs as the game progressed after giving their all in Saturday’s Irish Cup win over the same opposition.

On a crisp evening in north Belfast there was a sense of unfinished business from the weekend’s semi-final and that proved to be the case as the deadlock was broken after just five minutes of play.

Ryan rose at the near post to meet a Sean Graham corner and flick it behind him goalwards. Defender Kenny attempted to head the ball clear but could only help it on its way into the roof of his own net to stun the home crowd.

Cliftonville grew bravely into the game after that early setback and enjoyed plenty of possession without really testing Rohan Ferguson in the Larne goal in the opening half hour. However, it was the visitors who should have doubled their lead on 35 minutes.

Ryan out-fought Kenny and found Lee Bonis at the back post, but with the crowd awaiting the net to bulge, the ex-Portadown man struck wide from six yards out.

The first period was to finish with a game-defining decision. Former Cliftonville man Chris Gallagher appeared to catch Ronan Doherty late having been booked earlier in the half. However, following a fracas involving almost all 22 players, referee Raymond Crangle decided to award Larne the free-kick and Gallagher stayed on the pitch.

The second half began with the home side really pushing hard for an equaliser, and Ronan Hale should have done better when he was played through on goal by brother Rory. But the younger Hale could only release a weak effort that was well saved by keeper Ferguson.

Larne were now happy to play counter-attack football, using their strike duo of Bonis and Ryan, and it was the latter who killed off Cliftonville hopes on 60 minutes. The Scotsman outmuscled Paddy Burns before firing past the helpless David Odumosu from an acute angle.

The Belfast side pushed hard but fundamentally ran out of ideas, as Leroy Millar could have made it three if it were not for the crossbar saving the Reds defence. The defeat surely leaves Jim Magilton’s men out of the title race.

Carrick Rangers battled bravely but went down 3-2 to Linfield, who remain just two points behind Larne.

Carrick – not surprisingly – failed to capture sixth position with the defeat as Coleraine are confirmed the final entrant into the top-six split.

Nedas Maciulaitis grabbed an early opener for the hosts on six minutes, but Joel Cooper hit back just before half-time.

The second period produced goals for Kyle McClean and Ethan McGee for David Healy’s side, before Curtis Allen grabbed a consolation for Rangers.