Irish Premiership: Cliftonville go three points clear at top

Larne's Mark Randall in action with Conor McMenamin of Cliftonville
Cliftonville's win at Larne was their third league victory in a row

Cliftonville beat Larne 2-1 to extend their lead at the top of the Irish Premiership to three points as nearest rivals Coleraine and Linfield drew 1-1.

Joe Gormley and Conor McMenamin got the goals to give Cliftonville their victory at Inver Park.

Glentoran grabbed a late 2-0 win over Ballymena to go level on points with second-placed Linfield and Coleraine.

Midfielder Declan Carville played in goal for Ballymena as their three regular goalkeepers were ruled out.

All the key moments from an action-packed day in the Irish Premiership

McMenamin's fourth goal in three games proved decisive as the leaders sealed the three points against Larne.

Striker Gormley opened the scoring for the Reds after just 17 seconds when he headed Ryan Curran's cross home, but Larne hit back in the fourth minute through skipper Jeff Hughes' looping header.

Larne would have turned the game on its head had it not been for some impressive goalkeeping by Richard Brush with Johnny McMurray and Marty Donnelly both seeing efforts beaten away by the Reds stopper.

Then, in a remarkable sequence, Cliftonville scored the game's decisive goal after 53 minutes.

Linfield's Matthew Shevlin in action against Josh Carson of Coleraine
Title challengers Coleraine and Linfield drew at the Showgrounds

After Mark Randall had spurned a huge chance to put Larne ahead, the visitors attacked down the left flank through Gormley. He slipped the ball to McMenamin and the versatile wide man cut back onto his right foot before lashing his shot into the top corner.

Larne enjoyed extended spells of possession but Cliftonville's defence stood firm to secure their place at the summit heading into the new year.

Ten-man Linfield fell further behind the leaders as they drew 1-1 with Coleraine at the Showgrounds.

The title holders, looking to recover from a Boxing Day defeat by Glentoran, took a 13th-minute lead through a wonder strike from Stephen Fallon whose looping drive found the top corner from 25 yards out.

Fallon cleared off the line from James McLaughlin early in the second half before Aaron Canning equalised for the Bannsiders with a powerful header from a corner in the 54th minute.

Ryan McGivern was sent off on 72 minutes after receiving a second yellow card for a foul on Jamie Glackin, before both goalkeepers made outstanding saves to keep the score at 1-1.

Home keeper Chris Johns dived at the feet of Kirk Millar to deny the Linfield winger and then, in injury time, Rohan Ferguson was alert to save superbly from McLaughlin after Glackin had played him in.

Declan Carville of Ballymena United
Thirty-year-old midfielder Declan Carville was Ballymena's goalkeeper against Glentoran

Meanwhile, Glentoran extended their unbeaten league run to 12 matches with a last-gasp 2-0 win over Ballymena.

The visitors were forced to field 30-year-old midfielder Carville in goal as each of the club's three goalkeepers were unavailable because of injury or suspension, and the former Newry City player looked on course to keep a clean sheet until a blunder in the 86th minute.

Carville's weak kick out cannoned off the back of one of his defenders and into the path of Robbie McDaid, who ran through to gleefully fire past the makeshift United stopper.

Adam Lecky was then sent-off for barging into Christopher Gallagher, with home forward Paul O'Neill following him to the dressing rooms soon after for his part in a resultant melee involving several players from both sides.

Navid Nasseri's stoppage-time goal sealed Glentoran's 2-0 win
Navid Nasseri's stoppage-time goal sealed Glentoran's 2-0 win

Substitute Nasseri added Glentoran's second in injury-time, running the whole length of the field and slotting into the empty net after Carville had come forward for a corner.

Crusaders claimed their first league win in December in emphatic fashion against a hapless Dungannon Swifts.

Jordan Forsythe's opener was followed by two Jordan Owens goals to give the Crues a three-goal lead at half-time.

Jamie McGonigle's clever free-kick extended the advantage before Philip Lowry rounded off the scoring with five minutes remaining as manager Stephen Baxter marked his 750th game in charge of the Seaview side in style.

Jordan Owens of Crusaders
Jordan Owens, the all-time leading scorer for Crusaders, added two more in a 5-0 win over Dungannon

Warrenpoint Town claimed another vital point in their battle against relegation with a 1-1 draw at Glenavon.

The visitors were rewarded for a bright opening as they took a 10th minute lead.

Striker Alan O'Sullivan surged into the left hand side of the penalty area before cutting the ball back for Brandon Doyle to fire home.

Glenavon were continually thwarted by a stubborn visiting defence and on the rare occasions when they breached the Town rearguard, goalkeeper Mark Byrne was equal to anything that Glenavon could muster.

But the home side eventually levelled on 52 minutes when James Singleton arrived in the penalty area to head home Kyle Beggs' cross.

Carrick Rangers continued their march away from the foot of the table and completed Institute's dismal December by earning a comprehensive 3-0 win at the Brandywell.

The visitors were in complete control by the 20th minute after Lloyd Anderson's close-range header was followed by Reece Neale's emphatic finish.

Carrick lost keeper Aaron Hogg to a suspected ruptured Achilles tendon before half-time but his 17-year-old replacement Ben Nicholl had little to do during the remainder of the contest.

A breakaway goal by Stewart Nixon in the 72nd minute, unselfishly set up by substitute Guillaume Keke, ended the match as a contest as Carrick moved 12 points away from the relegation positions, with Stute now only ahead of bottom-placed Warrenpoint on goal difference.

Danske Bank Irish Premiership
Crusaders5-0Dungannon Swifts
Glenavon1-1Warrenpoint Town
Glentoran2-0Ballymena United
Institute0-3Carrick Rangers
Bluefin Sport Championship
Dundela1-0H&W Welders
PSNI0-4Queen's University

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