CLIFTONVILLE 2 ARDS 0
A goal in either half was enough for Cliftonville to see off Ards at Solitude.
Ahead through Daniel Hughes’ well-taken strike at the interval, skipper Jason McGuinness made sure of victory with 17 minutes left to play.
Both sides entered the contest on the back of contrasting fortunes in midweek League Cup action, holders Cliftonville having made light work of Annagh United while Ards crashed out after extra-time at the hands of Warrenpoint Town.
Separated by just goal difference in the Danske Bank Premiership table ahead of kick-off, the sides – who drew 2-2 when they clashed on the opening day of the season – created plenty of openings in the first-half and the Reds should have been in front inside two minutes only for Levi Ives to poke his attempt just wide of the mark.
Jamie Douglas and Joe McKinney each threatened for the visitors before Ruairi Harkin sent a wicked free-kick inches past the post.
Ards were unfortunate not to pull ahead on 25 minutes when David McAllister’s smart touch and flick set up a half-volley that home keeper Peter Burke did well to turn behind.
The breakthrough came just past the half-hour, though, when Jude Winchester’s awareness played Hughes into a shooting position and he made no mistake, confidently dispatching his strike beyond the dive of Aaron Hogg.
Hughes had two further chances to double Cliftonville’s lead before the interval; firstly unable to make a telling connection when David McCullough’s wayward clearance had fallen his way and then touching an attempt just wide when Jay Donnelly’s cross split the Ards defence open.
Niall Currie’s side had the better of the early exchanges after the interval but, unable to fashion any shots on target, fell victim to a sucker punch when McGuinness made sure of the points for Cliftonville, heading home Ruairi Harkin’s corner.
And McGuinness’ next contribution was to rubberstamp the Reds’ clean sheet with a goal-line clearance to stop Joe McKinney setting up a nervy finale at Solitude.
CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Knowles, M Donnelly, Hughes, Harkin, Winchester, J Donnelly, Cosgrove. Subs: Bonner, Curran (for Hughes, 90 mins), McDaid (for Winchester, 83 mins), Garrett (for M Donnelly, 65 mins), G Donnelly.
ARDS: Hogg, Brennan, Friars, Taylor, McCullough, Keke, McAllister, McKinney, McMillen, Ruddy, Douglas. Subs: Byers, McComb (for Keke, 57 mins), Rea, Arthurs (for Douglas, 50 mins), Tommons (for McAllister, 88 mins).
REFEREE: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)