Linfield’s unbeaten record in the Danske Bank Premiership is over.
The last side standing were undone by Cliftonville at Solitude as Jay Donnelly’s 52nd minute header sunk the Blues, who had levelled just minutes earlier through Paul Smyth.
James Knowles’ first-half penalty had set the Reds on their way and, though they had goalkeeper Peter Burke to thank for some eye-catching late stops, Gerard Lyttle’s side were worthy winners in a pulsating clash.
Neither manager saw fit to tinker too heavily with the panels that yielded three points over the weekend, with the return of Ross Gaynor to the visitors’ bench at the expense of New Zealand international striker Marc Bright.
Reds boss Lyttle, meanwhile, stuck with the same XI that did enough to get past Ards and, like opposite number David Healy, made just one change among his substitutes as Ryan Catney came in for Gary Donnelly.
An excellent stop from Roy Carroll denied Daniel Hughes and Jason McGuinness wasn’t quite alert enough to react to Martin Donnelly’s cross before the Reds took the lead on the half hour; Knowles confidently converting from the penalty spot after Matthew Clarke’s unfortunate touch had sent Hughes sprawling.
Linfield drew level early in the second period when Smyth ghosted in to nod Ross Clarke’s cross beyond Burke but visiting celebrations had barely died down before Cliftonville restored their lead; Ruairi Harkin spreading the play to Hughes wide on the left and his cross powerfully headed past Carroll by Jay Donnelly.
CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Knowles, M Donnelly, Hughes, Harkin, Winchester, J Donnelly, Cosgrove. Subs: Bonner, Curran, McDaid (Hughes, 82 mins), Garrett (M Donnelly, 88 mins), Catney (Knowles, 79 mins).
LINFIELD: Carroll, Clingan, Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, M Clarke, Casement, Mulgrew, Quinn, R Clarke, Smyth. Subs: Millar (R Clarke, 86 mins), Burns (Smyth, 75 mins), Ward, Carson, Gaynor (Quinn, 69 mins).
ref: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon)