Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena's makeshift goalkeeper makes ironic error while Conor McMenamin's the man again: Irish League talking points

Glentoran's Robbie McDaid punished Ballymena's stand-in stopper for an ironic error. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Glentoran's Robbie McDaid punished Ballymena's stand-in stopper for an ironic error. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press

Cliftonville are now three points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership after another topsy-turvy day.

Here are the main talking points from the action:

Larne 1-2 Cliftonville: McMenamin the main man to send Cliftonville clear

Conor McMenamin is one of the Irish League's top two strikers according to his manager Paddy McLaughlin. In a returned compliment, the striker said it was only because of the boss that he has hit those heights.

While his exact ranking is up for debate, the former Warrenpoint man is certainly the division's form forward, with four goals in three games. Those have earned three victories in a row, with the winners netted against Coleraine, Crusaders and Larne across the festive period.

The Reds are now three points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table. How vital could those mid-season wins, and McMenamin's goals, prove come May?

Coleraine 1-1 Linfield: Chasing duo keep each other down as Glens draw alongside

If the Reds have made the most of the festive fixtures, the Blues have endured a blue Christmas with only two points from their last three games.

Aaron Canning's 55th minute leveller was enough to earn a draw for the Bannsiders, cancelling out Stephen Fallon's early effort.

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The result means Oran Kearney's men are now unbeaten in four games against Linfield this season, with three wins and a draw.

It also allowed Glentoran to take their place among the chief chasers, all three teams now tied on 44 points, Linfield having played 21, Coleraine 23 and Glentoran 22 - the same as the league leaders. And then there's Crusaders just a point further back, played 23. It's hotting up nicely.

Glentoran 2-0 Ballymena United: The irony of the makeshift goalkeeper's kicking error

Ballymena were forced to start attacker Declan Carville in nets with all three of the team's goalkeepers unavailable after the club's appeal over Jordan Williamson's Boxing Day dismissal was rejected.

He pulled off a string of saves and kept a clean sheet in the 25 minutes he was between the sticks at Coleraine.

And it looked like he repeat the feat two days later, holding Glentoran out for 84 minutes.

When he did let one in, there was a certain irony to his error. If there's one thing the regular outfielder would have been expected to cope with, it was surely the kicking.

Sod's law, it was that which let him down as Carville's kick-off smacked the back of his own defender, leaving Glentoran forward Robbie McDaid with the simple finish, before Navid Nasseri added an injury-time clincher.

Who'd be a goalkeeper, eh?

Crusaders 5-0 Dungannon: A landmark day for Baxter as Dungannon's nightmare after Christmas continues

In what is the 750th game of Stephen Baxter's tenure, the second goal of the match was the 1500th under the boss, with the extras ensuring the average edges above two goals per game.

It was a result that also took the aggregate score between these teams to 14-1 in Crusaders' favour over the three meetings of the campaign.

While he'll be glad he doesn't have to play the Crues again this season, Dungannon boss Kris Lindsay has more on his mind as his side has just a single clean sheet 22 league outings this season.

They've now conceded 64 league goals, just one better than basement side Warrenpoint, 10 of those coming in the two games since Christmas Day.

In fairness to Dungannon, six players out through injury and suspension has meant a shadow side in both of those games, four teenagers starting including 16-year-old goalkeeper Conor Byrne, left helpless in both of their recent 5-0 losses.

With Warrenpoint picking up a point at Glenavon, the Swifts are now just five points off both of the bottom two.

Glenavon 1-1 Warrenpoint: Warrenpoint almost off the bottom

Warrenpoint Town are almost off the bottom of the table for the first time this season after another positive result. They've now picked up three wins and a draw in Barry Gray's 11 games back in charge, including a three game losing streak to start.

They've also strung together two unbeaten games in a row for the first time in the campaign and the signs are pointing up.

Point are now level on points with Institute, and with Dungannon five points ahead, the bottom two isn't as set as it once looked.

Institute 0-3 Carrick Rangers: Carrick's surprise rise continues

When Carrick Rangers sealed promotion via the play-off at the end of last season, manager Niall Currie said it was a season earlier than even he had dreamed.

It's that context that makes their first half of the campaign even more special. In their last 12 top flight matches, Carrick have won more than they've lost, with six victories (three by at least three goals), five defeats and a draw.

It's left the club now 12 points off both of the bottom two and looking very good for survival.

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