Cliftonville will go into the second half of the season in pole position as the Reds picked up their second win in as many days to stay top. Linfield will feel it was two points dropped away to Coleraine who remain in 3rd. At the bottom, Warrenpoint Town have drawn level on points with Institute after Stute’s heavy 3-0 defeat at home to Carrick Rangers.
Larne 1-2 Cliftonville
What a few weeks it has been for the Reds. Now sitting clear at the top of the table, they have had a great few weeks over the Christmas period. Wins against Coleraine, Crusaders, and now Larne – they have put down their statement of intent. Joe Gormley is back with the goals and Larne could not handle the league’s leading marksman on Saturday. Saturday’s defeat for Larne means they have still to register a win against any of the teams sitting above them. But it’s a work in progress we are being told. At least the corrupt lunches are going down well at Inver.
The Reds got this game off to a flying start. Within the first minute, Joe Gormley was in the right place at the right time to put the Reds 1-0 up. Larne, to their credit, got the game back on level terms a few minutes later. Jeff Hughes rising highest and looping a wonderful header into the Reds net to make it 1-1. The game was level until the second half when the Reds scored through Conor McMenamin to seal the win. McMenamin is in a nice vein of form after scoring the two goals that secured the North Belfast derby win for the Reds.
Coleraine 1-1 Linfield
Linfield needed a response after the Boxing Day defeat away to their biggest rivals Glentoran. On Saturday the Blues got off to the best possible start. Within 13 minutes they were 1-0 up and looking strong with Stephen Fallon scoring from all of 25 yards out, leaving Chris Johns in the Bannsiders’ net helpless. The Bannsiders levelled in the second half through Aaron Canning but any chance the Blues had of getting anything from the match was taken away when defender Ryan McGivern, not for the first time this season, got his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
The defeat leaves the Blues in second place but they still have a game in hand on the Reds. With a few signings coming into the fold in the New Year, the Blues will still be the team to beat come May.
Glentoran 2-0 Ballymena United
Only in the Irish League would we have seen this happen – the Sky Blues went into the game without a recognised keeper. Defender Declan Carville pulled the gloves on and took his place instead between the sticks. Carville and the Sky Blues did well until late in the game when a mistake from Carville let the Glens in on goal. Carville’s clearance bounced off the back of one of the Sky Blues defenders into the path of the Glens’ marksman Robbie McDaid who scored. Navid Nasseri scored the Glens’ second when he ran the whole length of the pitch to score into an empty net. Carville had gone forward for a corner and left the goal empty.
The game was marred by two sending offs just before the second goal, Adam Lecky got his marching orders for the Sky Blues followed by Paul O’Neill for the Glens.
Crusaders 5-0 Dungannon Swifts
5-0 and the perfect way for Stephen Baxter and the little bit of pressure that has been mounting to be taken off him. This game couldn’t have come quick enough for the Crues after the Boxing day defeat to the Reds, but in fairness though, this Dungannon Swifts team are in trouble. One win in 12 before this game for the Swifts, now make that 13. Kris Lindsey must think himself lucky to be in a job at the minute, and if he is there going into the second half of the season, they have a lot of work to do.
The Crues’ goal scorers were Jordon Forsythe, Jordan Owens with a double, Jamie McGonigle and Philip Lowry. Again, Kyle Owens sat on the bench when he was the only recognised centre-back available, which begs the question. Will he be shown the door this transfer window?
Institute 0-3 Carrick Rangers
Institute are now in trouble. Not a result that was expected but in Carrick we have a team that will fight to the end. Well organised and full of passion and pride. Saturday’s defeat for Stute now means they sit level on points with Warrenpoint Town at the bottom of the table.
Rangers were 2-0 up on the 20-minute mark thanks to Lloyd Anderson and Reece Neal getting themselves on the score sheet. Rangers sealed the win late in the second half when Stuart Nixon got the 3rd. There was a poignant celebration by Nixon when he lifted the late Jerry Thompson’s shirt after scoring.
A big well done as well to the Rangers’ stopper Ben Nicholl. Nicholl has just turned 17 and made his first-team debut on Saturday, and came away with a well-earned clean sheet.
Glenavon 1-1 Warrenpoint Town
Barry Gray’s Warrenpoint travelled to Lurgan to face Glenavon and came away with a valuable point which puts them level on points with Stute. December has not been great: three defeats, a draw and a win. But they are fighting to stay alive and in the league. On loan, Brandon Doyle got the Point off the mark on Saturday, only for the Lurgan Blues to peg them back with a goal from James Singleton.
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