Cliftonville leave it late to snatch derby spoils
Cliftonville 2 Crusaders 1: It wasn’t quite as dramatic as last year, but there was still no taking your eyes off yesterday’s festive north Belfast derby.
While it was red cards which came thick and fast during their 2009 clash, it was goals which barely gave supporters time to catch their breath in a thrilling climax at Solitude this time around.
The old adage about being at your most vulnerable just after you’ve scored rang true as both sides exchanged strikes in a pulsating last few minutes which preserved Cliftonville’s Yuletide record against their bitter rivals.
Not since 2003 have Crusaders tasted victory in the traditional Boxing Day bout; David McAlinden — who would later go on to star for the Reds — the matchwinner on that occasion.
Yesterday, however, Mark Holland was the hero when he leapt in with a last-gasp header to secure a 2-1 win just minutes after the tie appeared to be petering towards a 0-0 draw.
An instantly forgettable first period was followed up by an altogether more interesting affair after the interval and Crusaders were denied a 48th minute lead when John Connolly saved well from Martin Donnelly.
At the other end, David Magowan did well to block an effort from Martin Jones, while George McMullan’s follow-up was easy gathered by Aaron Hogg.
Michael Halliday and David Rainey should each have done better with free headers, while Magowan cleared a Stephen Garrett effort off the line.
Then Eamonn Seydak hacked one out from beneath his own crossbar with nine minutes to play and that looked to be that as far as anyone making a breakthrough was concerned.
It was Seydak, however, who would claim that distinction, even if his low-driven 84th minute free-kick did take a wicked touch off Colin Coates en route to the net.
Home celebrations were cut short soon after, though, when
slack marking from a corner presented Chris Morrow with all the time in the world to pick his spot and, typically, he made no mistake with a firm finish.
Suddenly, we were back at square one but Holland would have the final say just 60 seconds further down the line when he met George McMullan’s free-kick and powered a header home to lift Cliftonville above their opponents into third place.
“I'm delighted for Mark, he's been through it all with injury problems this year,” said jubilant boss Eddie Patterson.
“It’s been one thing after another for him but what a way to end 2010 — a last minute goal to beat Crusaders, he couldn’t have written it any better himself.”
Opposite number Stephen Baxter praised his side’s endeavours but bemoaned their lack of a killer touch.
“We created most of the chances but, when you don't put them in the net, you run the risk of being punished and that's exactly what happened,” he said.
“ I can't fault the effort from the players but we know we really had the opportunities to win that match.”
CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, Fleming, R Scannell, B Holland, M Holland, McMullan, C Scannell, Garrett, Seydak, O'Connor, Jones. Subs: Bannon, Lynch, Burns, Donnelly (for Jones, 70 mins), Brennan
CRUSADERS: Hogg, McKeown, Bell, Magowan, Coates, Dallas, Halliday, Rainey, Morrow, Watson, Donnelly. Subs: Faulkner (for Dallas, 61 mins), Arthurs (for Watson, 56 mins), Magee, McMaster, Gibson
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon)