Cliftonville 2, Ards 1
LEVI Ives capped a second-half turnaround as Cliftonville battled back to overcome Ards at Solitude.
The full-back – who had contributed to Michael Ruddy putting the visitors in front from the penalty spot thanks to a quite unbelievable handball offence – pounced 20 minutes into the second-half to seal the points after Davy McDaid have squared things up just after the break.
Having dipped into the transfer market this week, both bosses named fresh arrivals in their starting XIs with Glentoran-loanee Kym Nelson handed a midfield berth for the Reds, who also listed defender Paul Finnegan – snapped up from Bray Wanderers – on their bench.
Visiting manager Colin Nixon will have been grateful that opposite number Gerard Lyttle must contend without Joe Gormley until next season, but one player eligible to participate on his Solitude return was former Reds defender Kevin Bradley, who moved to the nomadic north Down side from Larne in midweek.
With Joe McKinney having departed for Ballymena United, Ards named young striker Matthew Shevlin – signed on loan from the Sky Blues as part of that deal – among their substitutes but it was the familiar figure of Michael Ruddy who blasted them ahead; stepping up to score from the penalty spot after Ives’ inexplicable handball on 29 minutes.
The Reds were level early in the second period when hesitancy and a quickfire series of miskicks, half-clearances and poor decisions saw the ball drop McDaid’s way and he made no mistake with a firm drive into the bottom corner.
The momentum now in their favour, Cliftonville set about securing the winner and it came from the most unlikely of sources when, after weaving some space for himself inside the area, Ives turned to plant a right-footed drive which squeezed just inside the post.
Ruddy threatened a leveller with a long-range free-kick but that was as much as Ards offered in response, with the hosts holding on for a deserved success.
CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Curran, McDaid, Hughes, Catney, Lavery, Cosgrove, Nelson. Subs: J Mooney, M Donnelly (Lavery, 46 mins), Winchester (McDaid, 81 mins), McNicholl (Hughes, 90 mins), Finnegan.
ARDS: Hogg, Bradley, S McMullan, Friars, Ruddy, McCullough, Cherry, McMillen, McComb, Keke, McAllister. Subs: Shevlin (Keke, 61 mins), Arthurs (McCullough, 78 mins), Hughes (McComb, 75 mins), Hall, Taylor.
REFEREE: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon).