CLIFTONVILLE restored their seven point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership on Monday night with a victory over Lisburn Distillery that was somewhat less comfortable than the 4-0 scoreline would suggest.
Though the Reds always retained a certain degree of control over proceedings, the Whites competed gamely and upset the hosts’ rhythm for long stretches before being shattered with three strikes in the contest’s final 18 minutes.
Solitude boss Tommy Breslin stuck by the same starting XI that had blasted eight past Ballymena United little more than a week ago and it took just 16 minutes for his side to make the breakthrough last night.
Though the danger seemed minimal at the time, Joe Gormley showed fine awareness to slip the ball past defender Philip Simpson before confidently stroking beyond the despairing dive of Lee Windrum.
The Whites keeper showed a strong hand to deny Martin Donnelly later in the half but, in between times, his team mates had given opposite number Conor Devlin plenty to think about but manager Tim McCann will be disappointed his charges failed to overly test the home custodian, with players regularly looking for an extra touch rather than attempting to get shots away from good positions.
Both sides had strong penalty appeals waved away by referee Tim Marshall before David McCullough wasted a decent opportunity when well positioned inside the area, but Cliftonville’s second-half improvement meant the visitors were always going to be up against it.
Windrum saved from Liam Boyce and Gormley before Marc Smyth headed wide of the mark but, the longer the single-goal margin remained intact, the more Distillery grew in confidence about their chances.
The next goal was always going to be crucial but, unfortunately for McCann, it was Boyce who did the damage when he nodded home from Martin Donnelly’s 72nd minute cross.
Barry Johnston emerged from the bench to make it 3-0 with his very first touch before perhaps the move of the night was rounded off when James Knowles made it two goals in two games for the former Blackburn Rovers youngster when he tucked a low drive beyond Windrum as the contest edged towards injury-time.
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, R Scannell, McMullan, Garrett, Donnelly, Smyth, Catney, Gormley, Knowles, Boyce. Subs: Johnston (for Catney, 79 mins), O’Carroll (for Garrett, 79 mins), Seydak, Lynch, Cosgrove (for McMullan, 34 mins).
DISTILLERY: Windrum, Smyth, Simpson, Davidson, McCullough, Liggett, Traynor, Melly, Ferguson, Hughes, Forsythe. Subs: Brennan, Hall (for Forsythe, 72 mins), Kopyt, Beggs (for Davidson, 83 mins), Halliday (for Melly, 77 mins).
REFEREE: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)