Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville rocked as Glenavon hit summit

Graham Luney

Glenavon 1 Cliftonville 1: All the talk before this game was about a goal feast with Liam Boyce, Joe Gormley, Guy Bates and David Rainey bringing their shooting boots to the party.

In the end, it was the tale of two goalkeepers and their contrasting emotions at the finish.

Lurgan Blues shot-topper Andy Coleman pulled off four crucial saves, while the game's solitary goal came from an uncharacteristic spill from Reds counterpart Conor Devlin.

On this occasion, his normally lethal strikers couldn't bail him out. By his own high standards, Gormley should have had a hat-trick but this wasn't one-way traffic in Lurgan.

Gary Hamilton's men, who are now sitting pretty at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership, gave everything to the cause and that passion, drive and commitment bodes well for the rest of their campaign.

Cliftonville's finishing was sloppy but the home side's defensive back five were sublime.

Take a bow Coleman, William Murphy, Gareth McKeown, James Singleton and right-back Rhys Marshall, who ran Coleman very close to the man of the match award.

Glenavon's team has been cruelly dubbed 'Dad's Army' but every top side needs a blend of youth and experience and it was 22-year-old winger Andy McGrory who slotted in the second half winner, after Devlin had spilled McKeown's long-range free-kick.

"I dropped the ball and it was definitely a mistake," said Devlin.

"I'm holding my hands up and I've apologised to the boys. Someone like me should be picking that ball up but I didn't and they scored."

In Devlin's defence, his rearguard were slow to react to the rebound while McGrory showed real hunger and determination to move in for the kill.

It's the first time this domestic season that Cliftonville have failed to find the net and Reds boss Tommy Breslin said: "All credit to them. They defended resolutely and their goalkeeper had a great game but let's see if they can back this up with more victories. But if we had put our one on ones away we would have won this game."

The Lurgan Blues were lifted by the news of Hamilton's two-year extension to his contract before the game but the champions came more into the contest and almost grabbed the breakthrough in the 29th minute.

Boyce spotted Chris Curran's superbly timed run and fed him an exquisite pass but Coleman was quickly off his line to smother the shot.

Five minutes before the break Bates, who was struggling with an ankle injury, made way for Hamilton.

Seconds before the end of the opening half, Coleman came to the home side's rescue again, showing first-class awareness to race off his line and clear the ball away from Gormley's feet.

Five minutes after the restart Glenavon enjoyed another let-off when Gormley was in the clear, but the goal machine malfunctioned and the ball drifted wide of the upright.

David Rainey's angled shot flew over the crossbar and the striker thought he was about to head the ball into the net in the 54th minute until Ronan Scannell hooked clear.

A minute later, Gormley was in the clear again after pouncing on Boyce's flick-on, but Coleman was his tormentor again, closing the angle and making the save.

Cliftonville had the feeling it wasn't going to be their afternoon, particularly when they failed to score after a goalmouth scramble when Gormley, Boyce and Martin Donnelly all saw shots blocked.

In the 66th minute it was Glenavon's turn to be wasteful in front of goal when Rainey lifted the ball over the bar from four yards. But three minutes later the hosts found the net.

Devlin could only parry McKeown's free-kick into the path of McGrory (pictured), who rifled the ball home from close range.

Rainey missed a chance to double his side's lead when he screwed a shot wide before Devlin made two saves to foil Hamilton, the second a wonderful finger-tip save onto the crossbar and away to safety.

Coleman proved to be the last line of defence again when he turned away Donnelly's low drive and, when the winger's free-kick whistled past the post in stoppage time, the victory was secured.

Although disappointed not to find the net, Rainey is feeling the elation of being top of the league.

"It's too early to talk about winning titles," he laughed. "It's just good to be able to stand up to the champions and take points off them.

"It was a good match. They missed chances and we, including myself, missed chances and young McGrory was there to tap in a rebound from a fiercely struck free-kick from Gareth. I could have had a few and I've apologised to the boys, but it was a day when you needed a little fortune in front of goal and we got it."

Hamilton heaped praise on his table toppers, saying: "I'm proud of them all. Our defending was magnificent at times and we put bodies on the line when we had to. People forget about the young players we have here but they are getting a chance and taking it."

McGrory said: "I'm absolutely delighted with four goals already this season, but that is the best feeling yet after scoring because it was an important win for us and against the champions.

"It is a privilege to play with Gary; his experience and quality has been a big help to me and I am just happy he is my manager and I get to play off him too.

"I was saying to Rhys Marshall he definitely deserved his man-of-the-match, but Andy Coleman ran him close, making four great saves – all from Joe Gormley.

"That lifted us so much because it really isn't like Joe but we're happy he had a rare off day."

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