CLIFTONVILLE 4 BALLYMENA 2
James Knowles netted late on to ward off a Ballymena United comeback at Solitude.
Leading 3-0, Cliftonville saw their advantage cut to just a single goal and, with the contest hanging on a knife-edge, substitute Knowles found the bottom corner to make sure of full points for the hosts.
The deadlock as broken after just five minutes when Chris Curran dinked home before a brace of Davy McDaid penalties – awarded for fouls on Curran and Stephen Garrett – seemed to put the Reds in cruise control.
United hit back, though, when William Faulkner rifled home an unstoppable drive after Ryan Catney had cleared Johnny Taylor’s header off the line.
After the interval, Gary Thompson converted following a goalmouth scramble to give the Sky Blues hope of an unlikely turnaround only for Knowles – introduced on four minutes after Jude Winchester had hobbled off – stroked past Alan Blayney to calm home nerves.
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Ives, Flynn, Curran, McDaid, Garrett, M Donnelly, Catney, Winchester, Cosgrove. Subs: Knowles (Wiinchester, 4 mins), McMullan, Brennan, M Murray, George (M Donnelly, 77 mins).
BALLYMENA: Blayney, Ervin, McNally, Taylor, McBride, Faulkner, T Kane, Thompson, Cushley, Jenkins, Tipton. Subs: Henderson (Tipton, 81 mins), E Kane, Ruddy, Ferguson (Cushley, 90 mins), McVey.
REFEREE: Lee Tavinder (Dungannon)