After Friday night’s games saw easy wins for Ards and Glenavon, and Coleraine being held at home to Institute, Saturday’s programme was dominated by the meeting of Cliftonville and Linfield at Solitude.
In a typically fiery contest, the tone of the day was set early on, with Ryan Catney and Chris Casement picking up yellows inside the first ten minutes after a melee.
Arnold Hunter reached for his pocket again in the twenty-sixth minute, this time to produce a red card in the direction of Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew after a nasty, high, stomping challenge on Jay Donnelly.
He wasn’t done there, dishing out several more cards in the second half. A second half in which Cliftonville struggled to press home their man advantage, until up he popped again. Joe Gormley makes a habit of scoring important goals, and with the Reds struggling to break Linfield’s resistance, it was almost inevitable that he would be he who would head Barry Gray’s charges into the lead. In his typical fashion, Gormley ghosted in at the back post to meet Jay Donnelly’s cross, sending Solitude manic in the seventy-second minute.
On the balance of play, however, David Healy’s side, probably deserved something from this game. And they would break home fans hearts, with summer acquisition Michael O’Connor being sprung from the bench to head in from an Andrew Mitchell cross with four minutes left.
In Sydenham, Glentoran took an early lead at home to Dungannon Swifts – Calum Birney getting the final touch to Curtis Allen’s low drive through a sea of players in the fourth minute.
After prolonged pressure from the visitors in search of an equaliser, it was Allen who would pounce against the run of play just after the half hour to double Glens lead. The striker converting with a header after a Dylan Davidson cross.
The Mid-Ulster side were always in this game, and eventually found the goal they deserved with five minutes remaining when Chris Hegarty’s header found the back of the net. It was too little too late for Rodney McAree’s side, who remain winless.
Emerging from the first three games with no points and a goal difference seven in arrears, you could have forgiven the Warrenpoint Town faithful for being nervous ahead of the visit of Crusaders to Milltown.
But in true Irish League fashion, it was the hapless hosts that took the lead seven minutes before half-time through an unlikely source. Step forward Cameroonian born French centre half Maxi Kouogun. The former UCD defender climbing highest, on his debut, to meet a corner and power a header past Sean O’Neill in the Crues goal.
The home side’s lead did not last long, however, with the champions equalising in first-half stoppage time. Another corner and another header – this time from a more familiar name to the scoresheet. Jordan Owens popping up to draw the Crues level.
The ‘Point frustrated their opponents throughout much off the second half – Owens coming close when his header rattled the bar on the hour mark for Stephen Baxter’s side.
In the end, the home side would end the day still rooted to the bottom of the table, still pointless; and in the cruelest of fashions.
After Simon Kelly was hacked down in the box, Mark Griffin strode forward to clinch an unexpected win for Stephen McDonnell’s men, only to be thwarted by O’Neill, with two minutes left on the clock.
And when your luck is out, football has a way of turning the knife in the most sadistic of ways.
Substitute Philip Lowry would snatch all three points for the North Belfast side in stoppage time with a header from a David Cushley corner.
Linfield regain top spot with that late O’Connor equaliser, whilst Glentoran and Crusaders’ wins see them leap frog Institute and Ballymena, into fourth and fifth respectively.