CLIFTONVILLE 2 BALLINAMALLARD 0
Darren Murray scored on his home debut as Cliftonville ended their winless streak at Ballinamallard United’s expense.
His 63rd minute conversion set the Reds on their way ahead of Chris Curran’s injury-time strike wrapping up the points for the hosts.
Home boss Gerard Lyttle Darren Murray the nod to lead the line as Jay Donnelly dropped to a bench which also included new recruit Daniel Hughes and Davy McDaid – who have both been sidelined with injury throughout January – as the Reds went in search of a first Premiership victory since December 12.
A sequence of four consecutive draws had seen Cliftonville fall behind in the race for the title and the fact that two of those stalemates came against Warrenpoint Town and Carrick Rangers will have given serious encouragement to the Mallards, whose own slump in form has re-opened the possibility of the Fermanagh side getting dragged into an end-of-season scrap against relegation.
Manager Whitey Anderson named ex-Linfield winger Ivan Sproule in his starting line-up, with fellow new boy Jake Dykes – recruited from Sligo Rovers in midweek – named among the visitors’ replacements and the bench was almost lapping up early celebrations only for Jason McCartney’s second minute lob to fall just wide.
The Reds saw a host of chances come and go throughout a dominant first-half that delivered opportunities for George McMullan, James Knowles and Chris Curran.
United keeper Alvin Rouse was his side’s hero time and again, getting down well to save a fierce Knowles’ free-kick and producing an excellent point-blank stop just when Murray looked poised to register a 37th minute breakthrough.
The outcome was different when the duo next went toe-to-toe, however, as Murray latched onto Martin Donnelly’s free-kick and dragged his shot across the keeper’s lunge and into the far corner.
United put the Reds under all sorts of late pressure in their search for an equaliser and, after Ryan Mayse had flashed a volley just wide, Anderson’s charges saw strong penalty appeals waved away when referee Raymond Hetherington was deaf to a handball shout against Ryan Catney.
Having committed men forward, there was a certain inevitability about the Mallards getting caught on the counter-attack and Cliftonville duly made safe the points when Curran got the better of Rouse from close range to put the seal on the Reds’ return to winning ways.
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Ives, Knowles, Curran, McMullan, M Donnelly, D Murray, Smyth, Catney, Cosgrove. Subs: Bonner (Ives, 48 mins), McDaid, J Donnelly (McMullan, 25 mins), George, Hughes (Knowles, 62 mins).
BALLINAMALLARD: Rouse, Crilly, McCartney, McMenamin, McCabe, Lecky, Sproule, Elliott, Friars, Lafferty, Campbell. Subs: Dykes, Mayse (Lafferty, 72 mins), Courtney (Elliott, 67 mins), Beacom (Campbell, 80 mins), McKenna.
REFEREE: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon)