Belfast Telegraph

Rattled Cliftonville now feeling heat

By Graham Luney

One of the most common cliches in football is "there are no easy games in this league".

In the Danske Bank Premiership this season you're going to hear managers utter those words on many occasions and with good reason.

The weekend started as it went on – with a surprise result.

Who could have predicted that Ballinamallard United would go to Glenavon and win after the Lurgan Blues had shocked Portadown at Shamrock Park?

Then on Saturday, who could have predicted that Cliftonville and Portadown would fail to beat the Premier League new boys Warrenpoint Town and Ards respectively.

In the case of the north Down men, they recorded a handsome 3-1 win over Ronnie McFall's side, rounding off a horrible week for the mid-Ulster side.

You would have expected the Ports to hit back in style following their derby loss but Ards aren't in the business of making life easy for anyone.

Warrenpoint have the same outlook and they frustrated the champions at Solitude, leaving north Belfast with a precious point. More questions are now being asked of Cliftonville and the fans must be scratching their heads, wondering how such a classy side is struggling to go through the gears.

When you look at that Reds starting eleven, you can see players who now know what it takes to win a league title but they are looking lethargic and a little devoid of inspiration. Last season there was no significant pressure on Cliftonville to deliver. Most of the expectation was on Linfield to do the business.

However, the Reds were able to keep their momentum going with a quiet determination to prove the doubters wrong.

Some expected the Cliftonville bubble to burst but Tommy Breslin's men refused to take their eye off the ball. At the moment, too many of their players are off colour.

In contrast, Town and Ards demonstrated that they have the battling qualities and fighting spirit needed to rattle teams in the top flight.

Breathing a huge sigh of relief is Ballymena United boss Glenn Ferguson. A big 3-2 win at Dungannon Swifts has opened up a five-points gap between them and Town in the bottom half.

At the top, Crusaders were content to take a point from their battle with Linfield.

I fancied the Blues to win this game but Stephen Baxter's side showed all the qualities that has seen them embark on an incredible 13-game unbeaten run.

That is a remarkable achievement in his fiercely competitive league and offers a hint that the Crues could go one better than their second placed finish last season.

A day to remember

Ards have featured too often in the 'one to forget' section of this column but what a result and performance they produced against Portadown. It was a week to forget for the Ports, following on from their defeat to Glenavon, but what a massive confidence boost this result will be to Niall Currie's (right) men. Their 3-1 win over one of the league's top sides will give the players fresh belief that they not only belong in the top flight but are here to stay.

...And one to forget

Only three wins in 12 league matches for Coleraine and another disappointing defeat at home to Glentoran. Boss Oran Kearney (right) has work to do to tighten his defence and get his attack firing. Too many of his players are failing to show their quality. While Glentoran were celebrating after winning at what should be a tough venue on the road, the Bannsiders need to get back to basics. Two goals early in the second half killed the hosts but if they can weather this storm, a few consecutive wins could lift them into the top six.

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