Linfield 1 Cliftonville 1
Cliftonville title contenders? Maybe. The trip to Windsor Park to take on champions Linfield was viewed as their first major test of the season and they came it through unscathed thanks to the predatory instincts of Joe Gormley.
The ace marksman was on target in the second half after Jordan Stewart’s early strike for the Blues to preserve his team’s unbeaten record and keep them on top of the Danske Bank Premiership with something to spare.
It’s been no surprise that Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin has been playing down his side’s championship chances - and given the strength of Linfield, Larne and Glentoran you can understand why - but results like this will build up belief in his team and the Cliftonville fans that they could be up there challenging.
The Blues, Glens and Inver Park outfit have spending power, but over the past year Cliftonville have discovered a pot of gold to bring in some quality recruits of their own. Record goalscorer Gormley remains their main man though.
As for Linfield, after the joy of humbling Glentoran at The Oval on Tuesday, this draw will be a disappointment for them. They have a game in hand on the Solitude side but are already five points behind them.
Before kick-off the Cliftonville fans were enjoying themselves on the Kop. That’s where away fans have been located at Windsor Park this season.
Given it is the most atmospheric part of the stadium it’s an arrangement that boosts the visiting team, especially with the numbers the north Belfast outfit brought on Friday night. They sold out their allocation of 1350 tickets for the game and were here to sing and lift their players.
The Northern Ireland Football League will not, however, have appreciated all the songs coming from that end of the ground, with this the first Danske Bank Premiership match live on television this season.
It was a confident start from the Reds, playing in yellow shirts and green shorts, but in their opening meaningful attack the champions hit the front in the seventh minute.
It all came from the awareness of Chris Shields who, after breaking up a Cliftonville attack, surged forward and from inside his own half played a searching ball to Chadwick on the left side.
The striker, on loan from Hull City, powered into the box before passing to Stewart, who controlled the ball instantly and fired home with his left foot via a slight deflection from Luke Turner, which made it difficult for visiting goalkeeper Declan Dunne.
It was a big moment for Stewart, who has only recently come back into the starting line-up. On the way to the double last term he scored important goals and this was another one.
Shortly after, Blues captain Jimmy Callacher blocked a shot from Gormley, yet for most of the first period goalmouth action was limited, with both sides guilty of conceding possession too easily in promising positions.
In the latter part of the half Linfield upped the ante and could have doubled their lead, with Stephen Fallon lofting over Kirk Millar’s clever pass when well placed prior to Matthew Clarke and Chadwick failing to grasp opportunities brilliantly created by Trai Hume. There was also a penalty appeal on Cameron Palmer turned down.
Linfield were left to rue those wasted chances on 57 minutes when the lethal Gormley levelled.
It was a goal straight out of the McLaughlin playbook, or ‘Paddyball’ as some Cliftonville fans call it. The sweeping move started from Dunne in goal and went from the left side to the right, with Jamie McDonagh providing a fantastic delivery for Gormley to pounce, heading in unopposed from close range.
Criminally, the Linfield rearguard, solid until then, gave Gormley too much freedom in the danger area and he made them pay at the Kop end.
In a frantic finish, Ryan Curran fired wide for the Reds and Paul O’Neill was denied by Chris Johns, while at the other end Fallon was off target after a thrilling run. A draw was probably a fair outcome but a better result for Cliftonville
Linfield: Johns, Newberry, Shields, Callacher, Hume, M Clarke, Fallon, Palmer (Donnelly 73), Millar (Quinn 59) Stewart (Salam 73), Chadwick (Green 58).
Subs not used: Walsh, Roscoe, A Clarke.
Cliftonville: Dunne, Ives, C Curran, R Curran, McDonagh (Hale 59), Lowe, Addis, Doherty, Gormley (O’Neill 83), Turner (Donnelly 90) Gallagher.
Subs not used: McNicholas, Foster, Coates, Kearns.
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)
Man of the match: Chris Shields (Linfield)
Match rating: 6/10