Stephen Garrett strike extends Cliftonville’s lead at top of table

Cliftonville tightened their grip on the Danske Bank Premiership title with a gutsy victory over Donegal Celtic on Tuesday night.

A first half goal from Stephen Garrett was enough to help the Reds extend their lead at the top of the table to nine points.

Tommy Breslin’s side made no mistake in turning their game in hand into maximum reward - and with it keep dreams of a first league title in 15 years firmly within reach.

Cliftonville’s joy at last night’s battling success was mirrored by Donegal Celtic’s growing frustration at another Premiership defeat.

The result keeps Pat McAllister’s men just four points above basement club Lisburn Distillery - with the Whites now boasting a game in hand following the postponement of their fixture with Portadown.

On another night the Wee Hoops could have salvaged some reward such was their endeavour against their Belfast rivals.

It was the home side who started brightly and could have taken the lead in the third minute after Sean Cleary’s shot was deflected behind.

From the resulting corner Ciaran Gargan sent in a cross that found its way to Ciaran Burns at the back post, but the defender’s neat turn and volley was tipped over by Conor Devlin.

Devlin was forced into another impressive save three minutes later, the Reds goalkeeper scrambling to palm away Gargan’s curling free-kick from the right side of the penalty box.

Cliftonville were labouring as they struggled to adjust to the heavy conditions, but as the half progressed they started to find their feet.

Martin Donnelly forced Niall Murphy into a competent save with a 25-yard free-kick in the 25th minute after Gargan felled Garrett on the edge of the area.

On 33 minutes Donnelly’s corner caused some havoc in the Celtic box with the ball rebounding off Joe Gormley before being cleared.

Cliftonville were on the attack one minute later, but Garrett mistimed his attempted shot inside the box and Gormley’s follow-up effort was blocked.

It was an ominous sign and two minutes later the Premiership leaders forged ahead.

Jamie McGovern carried the ball from defence before feeding a pass into Liam Boyce, and with one sublime touch Boyce sent Garrett clear and the striker made no mistake with a clinical finish into the bottom corner.

Celtic probably felt aggrieved and emerged in the second half with intent and purpose - but despite plenty of possession they failed to test Devlin.

Mark Miskimmin could only find the side netting when he latched onto Kevin Keegan’s low cross - the striker’s first-time shot arrowing wide of the mark.

On 57 minutes former Reds midfielder Conor Downey found Paul McAreavey inside the box, but the midfielder’s acrobatic effort drifted wide.

The home side continued to press and in the 63rd minute Miskimmin showed a neat turn of foot inside the Reds area before unleashing a shot that was deflected behind for a corner.

Miskimmin almost caught Devlin out with an erratic cross in the 73rd minute.

Cliftonville had some fleeting moments on the front foot but were reduced to long-range efforts that never tested Niall Murphy. Next up for Breslin’s men is another testing trip - this time to face resurgent Portadown at Shamrock Park on Saturday.

DON CELTIC: Murphy, McShane, Bradley, Keegan, Burns, Gargan, McAreavey, Downey, Cleary (McAllister 70), Miskimmin, Todd (Hughes 58). Subs not used: Devine, Deans, McVeigh.

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Scannell, Johnston, Garrett, Donnelly (Lynch 73), Smyth, Gormley, Knowles (O’Carroll 63), Boyce. Subs not used: Holland, Cosgrove, O’Kane.

Referee: Andrew Davey