Report by Peter Wilson
Photo: Bill Guiller
A late Josh Robinson winner was enough to give Larne all three points against a well-organised Cliftonville side at Inver Park. Despite enjoying long spells of possession, the Invermen were unable to convert their chances into goals and it looked like they were heading for a draw until Robinson’s header from a Marty Donnelly corner in the 95th minute.
The win means Larne remain hot on the heels of Linfield at the top of the table, only one point behind the champion, who have played a game more.
Cliftonville kicked off in the first half at Inver as Larne attacked the McKay Stand.
The Inver Reds’ first chance came after nine minutes at the end of a good move with Dean Jarvis finding some space on the left flank and dispatching a lovely low cross to Davy McDaid who blazed over at full stretch from five yards out.
Just before 20 minutes, Marty Donnelly put in a corner from the right. John Herron laid off to Jarvis who was able to get a low shot away amidst a sea of players but Richard Brush did well to save it with an outstretched leg.
Cliftonville thought they had taken the lead just after the half-hour mark when Joe Gormley found the back of the net after Michael McCrudden played through to him, but his goal was ruled out for offside.
On 39 minutes, Luke Wade Slater played the ball to Lee Lynch inside the area. He then stepped inside Conor McDermott, steered the ball to Donnelly whose header was beaten away by Brush.
Donnelly came agonisingly close again just a minute later when he curled a sweet strike towards the top right from 10 yards with the ‘keeper beaten but it somehow ricocheted off the upright and back into Brush’s grateful arms.
Just before half-time, McDermott whipped in a free-kick from near the left touchline for the visitors but Ryan O’Reilly’s header was wide of the left post.
Half-time: Larne 0 Cliftonville 0
Only seven minutes into the half, Jarvis had to be replaced by Graham Kelly after being injured only moments earlier.
On the hour mark, McDermott fired the ball up to Gormley in an inside right position but his shot directed at the right post was blocked by Albert Watson and went behind for a Reds’ corner.
With 75 minutes on the clock, Gormley thought he had scored once again but the flag was up for offside.
On 83 minutes, Marty Donnelly curled a delightful free-kick towards the top right from just on the edge of the box but Brush tipped it round the side of the post.
With 85 minutes gone, the away side broke well down the pitch. When Joe Gormley was brought down inside the area, referee Lee Tavinder waved away Cliftonville appeals for a penalty. Ryan Curran then fired a shot straight at Conor Devlin in one of the few moments of action for the Larne goalkeeper.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Graham Kelly created some space down the left flank and crossed in near the byline. The ‘keeper punched the ball away from the goalline and then spread himself well to deny Davy McDaid’s fierce close-range effort.
The only goal of the game came in the final minute of extra time. Donnelly lofted in the corner from the right and Robinson rose highest to nod the ball home.Despite some late Cliftonville pressure, Larne held on for all three points.
Full-time: Larne 1 Cliftonville 0
Larne: Devlin, Watson, Robinson, Herron, Sule, McDaid, Donnelly, Lynch (Hale 90 +1’), Wade Slater (McMurray 81’), Cosgrove, Jarvis (Kelly 52’)
Subs not used:C Mitchell, Scott, A Mitchell, Hughes
Cliftonville:Brush, McDermott (Donnelly 61’) (Foster 82’), Breen, O’Reilly, C Curran, R Curran, McCrudden (O’Connor 74’), McMenamin, Doherty, Gormley, Maguire
Subs not used: Dunne, McKee, Casey, Scannell
MotM: Fuad Sule
Referee: Lee Tavinder