Peter Wilson reports from Inver Park
Larne’s unbeaten run in December came to an end at the hands of league leaders Cliftonville, who secured a 2-1 victory on Saturday.
Joe Gormley opened the scoring for Cliftonville as early as 18 seconds before Jeff Hughes drew the home side level three minutes later. Conor McMenamin then put Paddy McLaughlin’s charges ahead early in the second half, to seal the win.
Cliftonville began very brightly, taking the lead after just 18 seconds as Ryan Curran played in Joe Gormley unmarked at the near post and the striker simply had to head downwards into the net past Conor Devlin.
Larne were level less than three minutes later as an inviting cross from Mark Randall found Jeff Hughes, who rose highest to loop a header over Richard Brush.
The away side could have regained their lead on a quarter of an hour with Garry Breen’s header from Conor McDermott’s corner going narrowly over at the back post.
After that, the Invermen laid siege to the Cliftonville goal as first on 28 minutes, David McDaid fed Johnny McMurray but his 25-yard snapshot didn’t have enough power to beat Brush.
Next, on 34 minutes, McDaid crossed from the left into Randall whose shot was charged down on the edge of the box. The ball fell to McMurray whose shot from 10 yards was beaten away by Brush as the visitors survived.
Yet again four minutes later, McDaid was provider as he laid off to Marty Donnelly six yards from goal but Brush was on hand to quickly smother the effort.
Just before the break, McMenamin tried his luck from distance with a low strike but Devlin was equal to the effort.
Larne picked up from where they left off as they began the second period as brightly as the first.
With seven minutes gone in the second half, McDaid slipped the ball through to Randall with Brush producing an excellent save to keep him out.
The visitors took the lead a minute later against the run of play. Gormley broke and teed up McMenamin who cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable effort into the top right corner past Devlin.
Thereafter, Larne dominated in possession but were unable to convert any of their chances into goals.
Hughes’ half volley on 58 took a deflection, with Brush getting down low to save.
Meanwhile, with eight minutes left of regular time, Fuad Sule drifted the ball over the top to McMurray but his rasping drive was well saved by the Cliftonville stopper.
In one of their few chances after their early second half goal, the away side could have doubled their advantage on 84 minutes when Ryan Curran’s low shot from 20 yards ricocheted off the base of the post. Only moments later, substitute Thomas Maguire flashed the ball across the face of goal but no-one was on hand to finish.
Despite some late pressure from the hosts to push for an equaliser, the referee blew the final whistle after four minutes of stoppage time as Cliftonville moved three points clear at the top.
Larne: Devlin, Flowers, Kelly, Watson, Ramsey (McEleney 65), Randall (Lynch 57), McDaid, Donnelly, Hughes, McMurray
Unused Subs: Mitchell, Tilney, McKendry, Graham, Gilmour
Cliftonville: Brush, McDermott, Breen, Harney, C. Curran, R. Curran, Bagnall, Doherty, Gormley (Maguire 82), McMenamin (Wilson 77), A Donnelly
Unused Subs: Dunne, McKee, Foster, Rocks, McCurry
Man of the Match: Johnny McMurray
Referee: Jamie Robinson
It’s another East Antrim derby next week as the Invermen travel to take on Ballymena United on Wednesday 1st January. Kick off at the Ballymena Showgrounds is 3pm.
Photo: Bill Guiller