Irish League Round-Up: Leaders Coleraine beat Linfield to go five points clear
A controversial finish at the Coleraine Showgrounds saw league leaders Coleraine pick up a massive 2-1 win over second placed Linfield and go five points clear at the top of the table.
Coleraine 2-1 Linfield
Jamie McGonigle’s late finish only just crossed the line, much to the protests of the Linfield defenders, to give the hosts a nail-biting win.
Earlier in the second half Brad Lyons and Mark Haughey scored headers to cancel each other out before the incredible finish to the match.
After a somewhat subdued start, McGonigle took matters into his own hands with a powerful surge from the halfway line to the edge of the box but he could only hit it straight at Roy Carroll in the 25th minute.
With ten minutes to the interval Chris Johns had to be alert to get two palms on a dangerous Niall Quinn free kick and push it over the bar, the best chance in an ultimately forgettable first half.
On the stroke of half-time Stephen O’Donnell was perhaps fortunate to stay on the pitch, hauling down Andy Waterworth on the edge of the box when he was seemingly the last man only for referee Arnold Hunter to go for a yellow.
The deadlock was broken ten minutes after the restart, Ciaron Harkin with an inch perfect free kick delivery into the box and Brad Lyons powered home the header.
That lead lasted all of nine minutes as Linfield scored almost an identical equaliser from a corner, Kirk Millar with an excellent delivery that Mark Haughey ran onto at pace to divert the bullet header past Johns.
There was a great deal of concern for goalscorer Lyons in the 71st minute when he was clattered to the floor at a free-kick, prompting worried cries from the players around him, and the midfielder had to be carried off on a stretcher.
A nervy finish followed, with neither side having any significant chances until McGonigle’s late finish sealed it.
It was Joe McCready, after some neat interplay, who put McGonigle through on Carroll and, although the keeper got a hand to it, he couldn't keep it out with the linesman saying the ball did cross the line before Jimmy Callacher hooked it away.
It led to no shortage of complaints from David Healy, Josh Robinson and Jamie Mulgrew, but crucially the goal stood and Coleraine moved five points clear at the top.
Ballymena United 6-3 Ards
A bizarre finish at Warden Street saw Ballymena United defeat Ards in a game where the two sides shared nine goals, five of which came in an incredible last ten minutes.
It took 17 minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it came from the Sky Blues, midfielder Gary Thompson taking a touch before turning and rifling home off his left foot.
Ards very much gave away their second softly just before the half hour mark, Cathair Friel pouncing on a poor backpass and, despite being brought down, Andrew Burns was on hand to finish.
But with just under ten minutes until the break Ards got one back, the Ballymena defence standing off Gareth Tommons at a corner and the captain hammering home a volley to reduce the gap.
Ballymena’s two goal lead was restored nine minutes into the second half, Leroy Millar’s free kick steered home by the head of Friel who continued his fine scoring form for the Sky Blues.
And with just over ten minutes to go former Ards man Joe McKinney seemingly made sure there would be no late comeback as he found some space and finished coolly under Sam Johnston.
But Ards grabbed one back, the ball being bundled in at a goalmouth scramble by Ben Arthurs to give the visitors hope, and a minute later Michael Ruddy slotted home a penalty to remarkably reduce the gap back to one.
However, a crazy final period was finally decided by Leroy Millar, who bagged the definitive game winning goal with nine minutes to play to hand the hosts a deserved, if not bizarre, three points.
There was still time for Kevin Braniff to add one from the penalty spot for David Jeffrey’s men as the game came to a pulsating end, with the hosts deserving the win.
Carrick Rangers 2-1 Dungannon Swifts
Carrick Rangers picked up an important victory with a 2-1 triumph over Dungannon Swifts at the Belfast Loughshore Arena thanks to two second half goals in two minutes.
Dungannon led through Ally Teggart’s first half header, but Lee Chapman and Michael Smith scored within two minutes of each other after the restart to hand Davy McAlinden’s side an important three points.
A completely forgettable first half was broken by a 40th minute opener for the Swifts as Ryan Harpur headed Paul McElroy’s deep cross back across the face of goal and Ally Teggart obliged in finishing it off.
After another rather unmemorable start to the second half, at the turn of the 70th minute the hosts suddenly seized the advantage with two quickfire goals to take the lead.
The first came from Lee Chapman, who was the quickest to react to Mikel Suarez’s flick on, and he lifted it deftly over the advancing Stuart Addis with precision to equalise.
No more than a minute later they led, Michael Smith producing the header past Addis to turn the game on its head.
Try as they might the Swifts couldn't find that all important equaliser to take a point home, leaving Carrick to hold on for the victory.
Crusaders 2-3 Glenavon
Another high scoring affair took place at Seaview where three first half goals saw Glenavon inflict Crusaders’ second home defeat of the season and move second in the table, winning 3-2.
Mark Sykes’ incredible week continued after just two minutes as he put the visitors ahead, the referee playing a good advantage from a foul and when the young midfielder was slipped through he drilled home confidently.
But another brilliant Paul Heatley goal brought the Crues level nine minutes later, the midfielder feinting around Bobby Burns and burying a shot in the top corner from the edge of the box to bring up his 100th league goal.
However, no more than three minutes later the Lurgan Blues retook the lead in a stunning opening 15 minutes, striker Marc Griffin steering the ball home after Andy Mitchell flicked on an Andy Hall cross.
Ten minutes passed before the next goal and it was again the visitors who got it, Mitchell passing home from all of five yards for their third after another great low ball across the face of goal.
After such a high scoring first half, the second was a let down in comparison as both sides had chances, the hosts in particular, but neither could force the goal they needed to make it a thrilling finish.
With literally the last play of the game David Cushley pulled back one, firing low past Jonny Tuffey, but in the end it was too little too late and the Lurgan Blues moved up to second in style.
Glentoran 0-2 Cliftonville
The resurgence at Cliftonville continues as Barry Gray’s men picked up a 2-0 win at The Oval, seeing off Glentoran and keeping a clean sheet.
Glentoran lost John McGuigan to injury just before the 30 minute mark, and soon after they fell behind, Joe Gormley swinging in a beautiful cross with the outside of his right foot and Rory Donnelly put it home with a diving header.
The Glens looked the more likely to score in the second half as they pushed for an equaliser and a point, however they were continually frustrated by passes that were inches from finding their targets.
And in the end it was that man Rory Donnelly who settled the game, sweeping home a second five minutes from time to give Barry Gray’s men a big three points away from home.
On Friday night Warrenpoint finished 2-1 against Ballinamallard when Alan Davidson scored the winning goal on 88 minutes.
Belfast Telegraph Digital