Ballyclare Comrades were left to dwell what might have been as Moyola Park bagged all three points in a 2-1 win at Dixon Park this afternoon.
Two first-half goals from Robbie Lucas had the visitors in the driving seat before a superb second-half strike from Johnny McClurg gave the Comrades hope of rescuing something from the game.
The Reds could, and should, have finished this Championship 2 clash with at least a point, when Steven McDowell won a penalty in the 83rd minute. However, Kyle Agnew’s spot-kick was saved by Gareth Maguire.
Moyola ended the match with nine men. Goal hero Lucas saw red 11 minutes from time before Conal Kilpatrick was sent off for the foul on McDowell which led to the penalty.
Referee Stephen Wallace had a busy afternoon and he brandished the red card for a third time in the dying minutes with Ballyclare substitute Mark Rainey given his marching orders for a foul on Gareth Stewart.
Eddie Hill’s side got off to the worst possible start when Lucas headed home with just two minutes gone. He was at it again in the 25th minute when he was afforded too much time and space to direct his header past Paddy Flood.
The Comrades changed things up at the break with Harry Spence and Hill making way for Mark Rainey and Steven McDowell, respectively.
Livewire Lucas was a real threat and could have had his hat-trick in the opening minute of the second-half but Flood got down well to save his right-footed shot.
McAlea went close for the home side 10 minutes later but his cushioned shot went wide of Curtis Maguire’s goal.
Shortly after the hour-mark, last season’s top scorer Ricky Higgins - named club captain during the week - made a welcome return to competitive action after an injury lay-off.
His introduction brough a new dynamic to the Comrades’ attacking options and on 67 minutes they were right back in it when midfielder Johnny McClurg found the net with an unstoppable strike from a Dan McAlea free-kick on the edge of the area.
There was even more room for optimism for the home team when Moyola were reduced to 10 men with Lucas sent for an early bath. Kilpatrick followed suit when he felled McDowell inside the box to give Agnew the chance to level matters from the spot. But the former Nortel man drilled his effort straight down the middle and Maguire saved it with his legs.
With three minutes on the clock, Rainey was sent off for a mistimed challenge on Stewart.
Ballyclare: Flood, McAlea, Pierce, Docherty, McClean, Brown, McClurg, Spence (Rainey 45), Gray (R. Higgins 63), Agnew, E. Hill (McDowell 45). Subs: Rainey, Earley, McDowell, D. Higgins, R. Higgins.
Moyola: Maguire, Kilpatrick, Gareth Stewart, McQuillan, Whiteside, Daniel McFadden, Hassan, McLean, Kelly, Lucas, Magill. Subs: Spiers, Pattison, Doey, Lennox.
Referee: Stephen Wallace (Londonderry).
Don’t miss this week’s Newtownabbey Times for reaction from this game and a look ahead to the Reds’ next match against Sport & Leisure Swifts.
Report by John Gillespie | Twitter: @Times_ Sport