Brian Neeson is no stranger to performing heroics between the posts but, not for the first time this season, he demonstrated his worth to earn Carrick Rangers a battling point.
Though the pint-sized goalkeeper has stood up to greater torrents of one-way traffic in recent months, his contribution during a shaky first-half spell laid the foundations for Aaron Callaghan’s side to earn a draw on an evening when, had Cliftonville taken any one of numerous opportunities, the floodgates would surely have opened.
That they didn’t was down to Neeson who, in addition to twice keeping Jude Winchester at bay, made a wonderful point-blank stop just when Davy McDaid looked odds on to break the stalemate.
Gers gaffer Callaghan set his side up for a draw and, after Neeson’s one-man show had helped settle the visitors down, the east Antrim men grew into the tie and time and again refused Cliftonville the space they had so gleefully gobbled up during the opening exchanges.
Even when Neeson was beaten – a rare fumble in the second period – Mark Surgenor was perfectly placed to clear Jay Donnelly’s shot off the line as the basement battlers held firm for a point that could prove crucial to their chances of survival come the final reckoning.
CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, McGovern, Ives, McGuinness, Curran, Knowles, McDaid, Garrett, Catney, Winchester, Cosgrove. Subs: J Mooney, M Donnelly (for Knowles, 84 mins), J Donnelly (for Winchester, 60 mins), Lavery (for Curran, 76 mins), A Donnelly.
CARRICK: Neeson, Surgenor, Foster, McCullough, Morrow, Hanley, Rice, Lavery, Kelly, Salley, Wilson. Subs: Taggart (for Morrow, 80 mins), Wade (for Kelly, 71 mins), Malcolmson, Chapman (for Rice, 68 mins), Greene.
REFEREE: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)