Cliftonville and Linfield share points in Solitude stalemate

Linfield's Ivan Sproule skips round the challenge of Cliftonville's Ryan Catney during last night's Danske Bank Premiership game at Solitude.
Linfield's Ivan Sproule skips round the challenge of Cliftonville's Ryan Catney during last night's Danske Bank Premiership game at Solitude.

Linfield held firm to claim a long overdue Solitude point in a scoreless draw with Cliftonville last night.

Having found themselves under the cosh for long stretches, the Blues were much improved after the interval and might even have stolen victory in a contest which, though failing to yield any goals, was not short on drama.

Blues boss Feeney - who had rounded on his side’s boo-boys for the criticism levelled at them in the wake of last week’s embarrassing League Cup elimination at the hands of Ballyclare Comrades - made no changes to the side which narrowly overcame Dungannon Swifts at the weekend, once again naming himself in an attack which also boasted the presence of Ivan Sproule, on target against both the Swifts and Institute recently.

Opposite number Tommy Breslin, meanwhile, stuck with almost exactly the same starting XI which had swept Ballinamallard United aside - goalkeeper Conor Devlin staving off the flu to replace Ryan Brown - as Cliftonville went in search of their first Premiership home victory of the season at the third time of asking.

A bumper crowd descended on BT14 to soak in, analyse, enjoy and endure every pulsating kick of a contest which has, not unexpectedly, grown to become one of the not-to-be-missed occasions on the Irish League calendar.

Adding extra spice to affairs this time round was the fact that the Blues - playing their sixth consecutive away League game this term while Windsor Park undergoes redevelopment - had lost all four meetings with the Reds last season as Breslin’s braves overturned an eight-point deficit to clinch a second consecutive Gibson Cup crown from beneath Linfield’s noses.

Cliftonville dominated proceedings in the first-half and trooped off the pitch at the interval wondering how they’d failed to make the breakthrough.

Joe Gormley saw two opportunities come and go and Davy McDaid shot off target before Chris Curran passed up the best chance of the opening 45 minutes when he miscued from a promising position inside a crowded penalty area.

Gormley and Martin Donnelly were then both off target to let the Blues - whose only real threat came from a Kirk Millar attempt which scaled the crossbar - off the hook time and again.

Linfield were much improved following the turnaround and, having gone close through Stephen Lowry and Aaron Burns, looked destined to make the breakthrough on 70 minutes when Ivan Sproule raced in behind the home backline and teed Sammy Morrow up for what seemed set to be a tap-in, only for Barry Johnston to produce a timely last-gasp intervention.

Within minutes, the Reds thought they’d scored when Johnny Flynn beat Johnny Tuffey to a high ball but, with home fans celebrating, Mark Haughey’s goal-line clearance preserved the stalemate to ensure a share of the spoils for his men.

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Scannell, Johnston, Flynn, Curran, McMullan, McDaid, M Donnelly, Catney, Gormley. Subs: Garrett (for Donnelly, 74 mins), Knowles (for Catney, 84 mins), Seydak, Winchester, Mulvenna (for McDaid, 74 mins).

LINFIELD: Tuffey, Richards, Hegarty, Haughey, Callacher, Lowry, Millar, Burns, M Clarke, Feeney, Sproule. Subs: Carvill (for Millar, 76 mins), Morrow (for Feeney, 68 mins), Ross Glendinning, Clucas, Quinn

REFEREE: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)