Glentoran 0 Cliftonville 1
Lethal Joe Gormley nicked a late winner to break the hearts of 10-man Glentoran at the Oval.
Mick McDermott’s battlers looked as though they would hang on for a point after having Darren Murray controversially dismissed on 64 minutes.
But as the clock ticked down, that man Gormley at last got an effort on target to send the Red Army into raptures.
Both teams approached the game with something to prove. The Glens were on the end of a thumping 5-2 defeat by Crusaders, while their opponents tossed away a first half lead and were beaten by Ballymena United at the Showgrounds.
Although Glens boss Mick McDermott delved into the transfer market on Thursday, snapping up Navid Nasseri, from Gillingham, he resisted the temptation of giving the midfielder a debut.
The Glens had loud appeals for a penalty after only 30 seconds when Garry Breen sent Murray tumbling inside the box, but referee Steven Gregg wasn’t interested.
But the Reds responded with Ruaidhri Donnelly cutting in from the left before letting fly with a low shot that Marijamn Antolovic just about managed to shovel away from the base of the post.
Joe Gormley then tried his luck from distance that Antolovic was relieved to see whistle past the post.
Back came McDermott’s side. Elvio van Overbeek combined with Hrvoje Plum and the big Croatian midfielder stung the hands of Richard Brush with a fierce drive from the edge of the box.
Glentoran had a real let-off on 22 minutes. Gormley’s tame effort was touched on to the unmarked Conor McMenamin and, with the goal at his mercy, he could only strike the shoulder of Stewart on the line.
Now growing in confidence, the Reds went close again when Gormley was taken down by Stewart 30 yards out. The big striker’s free kick looked destined for the top corner until Antolovic managed to get an outstretched glove to the shot.
Gormley then missed a sitter on 36 minutes. Sent clear by wonderful pass from McMenamin, he skipped past Antolovic but just as he was about to pull the trigger, he lost his footing, allowing Patrick McClean to tidy up.
Then, just before the break, McMenamin danced down the left before drilling in a low cross that Gormley somehow failed to convert at the back post.
The theme continued after the break with Donnelly missing a glorious chance to establish the lead for the visitors. In a lightning break, Gormley and McMenamin combined, leaving the big striker totally free, but his shot fizzed past the post.
And, second later Chris Curran threaded a delicious pass to McMenamin, but his shot was superbly tipped away by Antolovic.
The game erupted for all the wrong reasons on 64 minutes when Murray was dismissed after picking up his second booking for speaking out of turn – just as he was about to be substituted by Jonny Frazer.
But as the home team were grimly hold on at the finish, that man Gormley managed to find a yard of space, allowing him home a Conor McDermott corner kick.
Man of the match: Chris Curran.
GLENTORAN: Antolovic, Kane, Gallagher (Frazer 66), Herron, Murray, Stewart, McClean (Crowe 62), Pepper, O’Neill, Plum, Overbeek.
Unused subs: Morris, Byrne, Nasseri, Gordon, McCarthy.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, McDermott, Breen, Gorman, Harney, C Curran, R Donnelly (Maguire 81), Bagnall (R Curran 77), Doherty, Gormley McMenamin, A Donnelly.
Unused subs: Dunne, Foster, Wilson, Rocks, Gorman.
REFEREE: Steven Gregg.
Match rating 7/10.