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More January Blues for Reds

Ballymena deliver latest blow to Cliftonville title hopes

The evening’s outstanding performer Jamie McDonagh (right) puts Cliftonville 2-0 in front.

Cliftonville fans should be waking up this morning to a league table that sees their club trailing league leaders Linfield by only two points...

But instead there’s four separating the Reds and the summit, as their title bid threatens to derail still further after another January setback.

How they didn’t win a game they comfortably controlled can only be put down to poor game management.

You wonder also how Jamie McDonagh must feel... four goals in his last two games, each one better than the last, and he’s ended up on the winning side on neither occasion.

Boss Paddy McLaughlin, barred from the bench last night but in constant communication from his nearby seat in the stand, was absolutely right to highlight the winger’s contribution...

“Jamie played brilliantly and scored two fantastic goals,” McLaughlin said. “We should be coming away talking about him and we’re not. We’re talking about how disappointed we are.”

It was difficult to see where a Ballymena goal was coming from, they had given their fans so little to shout about throughout the contest.

Cliftonville looked comfortable even at 1-0, and when McDonagh brilliantly converted his second, you thought, well that’s that!

Perhaps McLaughlin’s decision to make a double change with four minutes left on the clock backfired, but really with little apparent danger and time running out, it seemed a perfect opportunity to give minutes to a couple of players who hadn’t played much recently.

Ballymena deserve credit for keeping going and digging out the unlikeliest of results but in truth there was little else to encourage, despite David Jeffrey’s public praise for how his players responded after defeat to Carrick Rangers.

Ballymena’s Philip McElroy on the pitch only three minutes, lashes home his side’s added-time equalizer...

Luke McNicholas will be disappointed not to have kept out Leroy Miller’s 88th minute effort at the near post, and when Gallagher was adjudged to have handled, Philip McElroy, on the pitch only 3 minutes, confidently lashed home the resultant penalty to level in the second minute of added time.

Linfield and Glentoran can add to Cliftonville’s woes this afternoon, with the Oval men gifted with the easier task. Glentoran look absolutely ‘nailed on’ to despatch Warrenpoint Town at home, a result that would take them to the top of the table should Linfield drop any points at Coleraine Showgrounds.

The Bannsiders are battling for a top-six spot having slipped to seventh behind Ballymena. They remain short on goal power but hope the addition of Andrew Mitchell (from Glentoran) can boost striking options.

Expect a tight, low-scoring affair at the Showgrounds, where a draw would not surprise anyone.

Last night’s Line-ups -
Ballymena United: Gallagher - Graham, Keeley, McGrory, Redman - Kane (Bramall, 85), Barr (Henderson, 84), Millar, McCullough (McElroy, 89) - Parkhouse (Nelson, 74), Place (Smith, 85)
Subs not used: Waide, Rodgers
Manager: David Jeffrey

Cliftonville: McNicholas - McDermott, Addis, Turner, Ives - McDonagh, Lowe (Donnelly, 86), Doherty (C Curran, 81), Gallagher - R Curran (Harney, 86), Gormley (O’Neill, 74)
Subs not used: McKenna, Coates, Kearns
Manager: Paddy McLaughlin

Referee: Lee Tavinder