IRISH LEAGUE: Hughes helps Cliftonville rescue share of the spoils against Glentoran

Celebration time for Cliftonville following Daniel Hughes' equaliser against Glentoran. Pic by Pacemaker.
Celebration time for Cliftonville following Daniel Hughes' equaliser against Glentoran. Pic by Pacemaker.

Cliftonville and Glentoran cancelled one another out in a scrappy battle at Solitude in front of the Sky Sports television cameras.

Ahead through Curtis Allen’s 15th-minute opener, the Glens were grateful to goalkeeper Elliott Morris for a brace of fine saves to keep the Reds at bay following Daniel Hughes’ equaliser.

The veteran shot-stopper thwarted both Jay Donnelly and Hughes as Cliftonville went in search of the strike to complete their turnaround only to find Morris in particularly impressive form.

Though it’s traditional for injuries and suspensions to take their toll at this time of the season, home boss Gerard Lyttle must have been wondering exactly what he’d done to deserve the selection headache he faced.

With Jason McGuinness and Jaimie McGovern already ruled out through suspension, the red card earned by fellow central defender Chris Ramsey in last week’s defeat to Ballinamallard United further limited the hosts’ options at the back, while their woes in midfield – where Ruairi Harkin, Ryan Catney and James Knowles were all sidelined with injury – were further exacerbated by on-loan Kym Nelson being precluded from facing his parent club.

All of which meant that Lyttle was forced to call upon Caoimhin Bonner for the first time since he was subject to an elbow from Portadown’s Ken Oman just before Christmas, selecting the former Finn Harps man alongside January recruit Paul Finnegan at the back.

That’s not to say that Glens boss Gary Haveron’s options were particularly plentiful.

He, too, has had to cope with a seemingly endless string of absences in recent times and the question mark that hung over the fitness of Calum Birney only added to his frustration as he sought to mastermind an unlikely late surge into the top half of the standings.

With Jay Magee and Ciaran Caldwell further filling out the Glens’ casualty list, the last thing Haveron needed was for Marcus Kane to cry off just before kick-off but, with Aaron Harmon elevated from the bench, it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of the play in the first half.

They scored with their first opportunity - after 15 minutes when Jonathan Smith’s teasing cross was met by Allen at the far post and, though his initial attempt was saved by Peter Burke, he couldn’t exactly miss when the ball landed back at his feet.

Smith was then denied by Burke before Steven Gordon rocked the crossbar with a header as the Reds struggled to grab a foothold in the contest, although they did at least close the first half out by threatening half-chances through Hughes and Bonner.

And it was Hughes who levelled the scores with 60 minutes on the clock when he raced on to Jay Donnelly’s clever tee-up to stroke beyond Morris – but if the Reds thought the change of momentum would lead to a winner, they reckoned without the heroics of the Glens keeper.

After lunging to his left to finger-tip a deflected Jay Donnelly attempt wide, Morris showed wonderful reactions with a point-blank stop to prevent Hughes from seizing on a loose ball inside the area.

In between times, Smith had failed to make proper contact with a wicked Allen delivery but, though not particularly useful to either side, a draw was a fair result in a contest that marked something of a low-key return to the Sky Sports screens for Irish League football.

CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, Ives (Lavery, 78 mins), Bonner, Curran, Garrett (Reynolds, 81 mins), M.Donnelly, Hughes, Winchester (Seydak, 86 mins), J.Donnelly, Cosgrove, Finnegan. Unused subs: J.Mooney, Haire.

GLENTORAN: Morris, Birney, Allen, Lavery, McAlorum, Addis, Gordon (O’Flynn, 72 mins), Redman, Harmon, Ferrin, Smith. Unused subs: Nelson, Foley, McAuley, Black.

REFEREE: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).