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Ryan Curran proves the difference to keep Cliftonville in Irish League title mix

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Larne’s Kofi Balmer gets to grips with Cliftonville match-winner Ryan Curran last night at Inver Park

Larne’s Kofi Balmer gets to grips with Cliftonville match-winner Ryan Curran last night at Inver Park

©INPHO/Jonathan Porter

Larne’s Kofi Balmer gets to grips with Cliftonville match-winner Ryan Curran last night at Inver Park

Cliftonville held on for a hard-fought 1-0 win at Inver Park to keep themselves in the Premiership title picture.

An early goal from Ryan Curran proved to be the only one of the game, on a night when Larne finished strongly but couldn’t find a breakthrough.

It’s the Invermen’s second consecutive 1-0 defeat at home and one which leaves them in fifth, 11 points off leaders Linfield who have a game in hand.

Cliftonville are tucked in behind the Blues and Glentoran.

Larne had a great opportunity to take the lead with just nine minutes on the clock, fashioned by their high pressing.

John Herron and Ben Doherty did well to win possession high up the pitch and fed the ball to Tomas Cosgrove on the right.

Cosgrove fizzed a cross to the back post which was met by Ronan Hale, who, despite being unmarked six yards out, was unable to steer his header past Luke McNicholas.

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Larne were to pay with a sloppy goal conceded just four minutes later.

A long ball out of defence by Johnny Addis fell between Kofi Balmer and goalkeeper Rohan Ferguson, with Curran bravely nipping in to head in.

Curran required treatment after the goal but was able to continue, while Ferguson picked up a yellow card after the collision.

This seemed to knock the stuffing out of Larne and it was Cliftonville who looked the more dangerous.

Paddy McLaughlin’s men began to push forward and often forced Larne to go direct.

It took Larne until five minutes before the break to fashion their next opportunity when Doherty crossed for Herron at the back post, but after taking a touch 12 yards out the Scottish midfielder steered wide.

The Solitude side had a great chance to double their lead in first-half stoppage time, but Balmer blocked from Curran.

Referee Steven Gregg signalled there wasn’t time to take the resulting corner, much to the frustration of Cliftonville with boss McLaughlin sent off.

The other big talking point of half-time came when Larne boss Tiernan Lynch replaced goalkeeper Ferguson with Conor Devlin, who was making his first appearance in eight months after a ruptured Achilles.

On 62 minutes, Larne’s Lee Bonis headed over from a pinpoint cross from Cosgrove.

With 17 minutes remaining, clever play from Herron saw him end a surging run by slipping the ball to his right, but as Doherty moved the ball onto his left, Luke Turner got across to block.

Larne introduced Davy McDaid in the last 15 minutes and he was in the thick of the action soon afterwards when he hooked Mark Randall’s chipped through-ball the wrong side of the post.

McDaid then weaved his way into the box before seeing his penalty appeals waved away.

Cliftonville almost doubled their lead late on, but Devlin saved from Paul O’Neill.

Larne: Ferguson (Devlin 46), Balmer, Kelly, Herron, Randall, Hale (McDaid 76), Doherty ( Lynch 83), Bolger, Bonis, Cosgrove, Jarvis (Scott 76).

Unused subs: Watson, Nasseri, Mitchell

Cliftonville: McNicholas, McDermott (C. Curran 57), Ives, R. Curran, McDonagh (Harney 79), Lowe, Addis, Doherty (Donnelly 69), Turner, Gallagher, Kearns (O’Neill 69).

Unused subs: McKenna, Gormley, Coates.

Referee: Steven Gregg (Ballyclare)

Man of the match: Ryan Curran

Match rating: 6/10


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