Brilliant Coleriane blow a hole in Cliftonville's challenge
Cliftonville 1 Coleraine 3: Coleraine shattered their long winless streak in memorable fashion with a wonder-show to shock Cliftonville at Solitude last night.
Without a Premiership victory since March 16, the Bannsiders raced into a first-half lead through Stephen Lowry and added to their advantage after the interval thanks to Stephen Carson and Gary Browne to finally end a frustrating run that saw them draw all of their previous League games this term.
As for Cliftonville, having won 24 consecutive home matches on the domestic scene dating back to this week last year, they've now lost two in three days and suddenly their convincing start to the season looks to have unravelled round them.
Tommy Breslin handed a debut to 19-year-old defender Paddy McNally, who signed on loan from Celtic late last month.
A product of the Reds' Football Development Centre, the Northern Ireland under 21 international moved to Glasgow two years ago and had, ironically, spoken of his disappointment at never making a senior appearance at Solitude in an interview for the Hoops' matchday programme when the sides locked horns on Champions League duty in July.
That boyhood dream was realised when boss Breslin gave him the nod to partner Marc Smyth in one of five changes to the champions' team.
Still feeling the effects of a bruising joust with the Ports, Liam Boyce was risked only as a substitute, with Stephen Garrett, Eamonn Seydak and Diarmuid O'Carroll all returning in addition to Ciaran Caldwell making his first domestic start of the season.
For Coleraine, defender Aaron Canning's suspension opened the door for Steven Douglas – sent off in last Monday's League Cup meeting with Loughgall – to make a return to Oran Kearney's side, who had had drawn eight of their last 10 Premiership fixtures.
And it was the visitors carved out the night's first chance when a sweeping move ended with Browne teeing himself up for a half-volley which Conor Devlin comfortably dealt with, but there was nothing the Reds goalkeeper could do to prevent Coleraine making a 19th minute breakthrough thanks to Lowry's deflected shot, which crept into the bottom corner.
That strike sparked a hitherto lifeless game into action and a combination of Shane Jennings and Michael Hegarty doing enough to prevent McNally and Gormley from pairing up for an instant leveller at the othetr end.
Diarmuid O'Carroll sliced an effort wide and Gareth Tommons forced a smart stop from Devlin before Caldwell and Chris Curran teamed up in an intricate passing move that ended with Tommons deflecting Caldwell's effort over the top.
The Reds started the second period with purpose and threatened through both O'Carroll and Caldwell.
However, it was Coleraine who came closest to the next goal when Lowry clipped the outside of the upright with another telling strike.
They would not have long to wait to double their advantage, though, and the new half was just 12 minutes old when, after cheaply conceding possession deep inside their own half, Cliftonville were punished as Devlin's save from a Lowry drive ricocheted back off Carson and into the net.
It was 3-0 in controversial circumstances shortly afterwards when, with the hosts appealing to referee Ross Dunlop for a foul on Tomas Cosgrove, Coleraine kept the ball alive and played Browne through on goal with a cool finish in off the base of the post.
Substitute Ciaran Doherty did register a headed consolation 10 minutes from time but it never looked being anything like enough to spark a home revival in the contest shown live on Sky Sports.
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McNally (Doherty 65mins), Caldwell, Garrett (Donnelly 65mins), O'Carroll, Seydak, Smyth, Catney, Gormley (Boyce 65mins), Curran, Cosgrove. Subs: McGovern, McNeill.
COLERAINE: Drummond, Beverland, Hegarty, Douglas (Harkin 77mins), Ogilby, Lowry, Browne, Carson (Owens 79mins), Watt, Jennings (Bradley 88mins), Tommons. Subs: Stewart, McMillan.
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus).