Cliftonville 3 - 1 Warrenpoint: Joe the Goal on treble time as Reds extend their lead
Joe Gormley claimed a 19-minute hat-trick as Cliftonville came from behind to overcome some stubborn resistance from Warrenpoint Town last night.
Trailing to Ciaran O'Connor's seventh minute opener, the Reds huffed and puffed their way through long stretches of a frustrating evening before Gormley's treble stretched their lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership to five points - and added a little extra pressure to their fellow title challengers' respective tasks today.
The NI Football League's experiment with Friday night football commenced in front of a healthy attendance as supporters availed not only of the opportunity to kick their weekend off with some floodlit action, but also Cliftonville's incentive of free admission to fans aged 11 and under.
Indeed, it was not until the home punters - with precious little to excite them during a drab opening 45 minutes from their perspective - found their voices that the champions exerted any telling authority on the occasion.
They did, however, almost get off to the perfect start when, virtually straight from the kick-off, Jude Winchester attempted to exploit some wide-open spaces in the Warrenpoint defence only to drag his left footed effort across the face of goal and wide.
Bottom of the table and without a victory since October's opening weekend, the visitors broke the deadlock just seconds after failing to convert a gilt-edged opportunity from close range. O'Connor capitalised on some hesitancy in the Cliftonville backline to touch the ball past goalkeeper Conor Devlin.
The Reds performance was riddled with errors and numerous stray passes, exacting anxious groans from the stands, while Town were content to slow things down at every opportunity.
Though Cliftonville enjoyed the bulk of possession for the remainder of the half, they rarely troubled Johnny Parr - back after a lengthy spell on the sidelines - in the Point goal, with Winchester again shooting wide before Martin Donnelly saw an attempt blocked by Dermot McVeigh after the ball had squirmed out of Davy McDaid's path.
Rampaging full-back Tomas Cosgrove, on target in sensational style against Dungannon Swifts last time out, failed to make the most of Chris Curran's 47th minute delivery and McDaid headed off target as the Reds went in search of an equalling goal.
By now pressing their opponents much higher up the park, the hosts finally drew level when the industrious Donnelly threaded Gormley through and the striker kept his cool to slot home under considerable pressure.
Within six minutes, the turnaround was complete and the Reds had Winchester's quick-thinking to thank for their advantage.
The former Kilmarnock midfielder's quick free-kick caught the Warrenpoint defence napping and McDaid stole in to tee Gormley up for the most simple of finishes into an empty net.
It was almost 3-1 on 79 minutes but Gormley was unable to steer his header on target following a cross from Stephen Garrett but he made no such mistake shortly afterwards, claiming the matchball with another close-range tap-in after further combination play from Donnelly and McDaid.