Irish Premiership: Cliftonville 1-2 Ballymena United

Ballymena edge past Cliftonville at Solitude

Ballymena United boosted their hopes of a top-six finish in the Irish Premiership as they earned a 2-1 away win over Cliftonville.

Johnny McMurray put Ballymena ahead on 38 minutes but it looked lucky with the ball stuck in his feet before bouncing off his shin past Brian Neeson.

Earlier, Jay Donnelly had struck the Ballymena crossbar with a fierce shot.

Ex-Reds man Johnny Flynn doubled Ballymena's lead on 73 before Jamie Harney pulled back a late goal.

Six minute of added-time were required after Cliftonville defender Garry Breen was left in some distress on the turf with a serious looking leg injury.

Breen had to be carried off on a stretcher but, despite the lengthy injury-time, the Reds were unable to get on terms after Harney's goal in the first added minute.

Joe Gormley shows his frustration after a missed Cliftonville chance
Joe Gormley's volley somehow rebounded off Rory Donnelly and over the Ballymena crossbar in the second half

Reds miss several chances

The Reds will wonder how they failed to get something from the game with Rory Donnelly also heading against the woodwork in the second half as they missed several other great chances.

Joe Gormley and Chris Curran both tested Ballymena keeper Ross Glendinning in the opening 10 minutes before Jay Donnelly thundered a shot of the Braidmen's crossbar, with the keeper possibly getting a fingertip to the piledriver.

Prior to McMurray's goal, Ballymena did waste a chance with Cathair Friel unable to get full purchase on his close-range effort after McMurray had nodded on a free-kick.

However, the visitors did move ahead on 38 minutes as McMurray somehow managed to bundle home after a defence splitting pass from Fra McCaffrey.

The striker almost had an embarrassed look as he was surrounded by delighted team-mates while Cliftonville defenders were also appealing for offside.

Flynn doubles Ballymena lead on 73

Cliftonville pressed strongly after the resumption as Rory Donnelly headed a corner against the crossbar after penalty appeals following Joe Gormley's tumble in the area had been turned down by referee Lee Tavinder.

After substitute Matthew Shevlin went close to doubling Ballymena's lead following a breakaway, the Braidmen had a huge escape at the other end as Gormley's volley rebounded off Rory Donnelly and over the crossbar on 70 minutes.

Within three minutes, Ballymena were 2-0 up as Flynn bundled home from close range after the Reds had failed to clear following Steven McCullough's short corner to Tony Kane.

The unfortunate Breen suffered his injury as he stretched to try to halt Shevlin and while Harney lashed to the net in injury-time, Ballymena held on for their smash and grab victory.

Ballymena's win moves them to within four points of sixth-placed Glentoran while the Braidmen also have a game in hand, with fifth-placed Cliftonville remaining four points behind Linfield.