Cliftonville hold on as Chris Scannell finally nets big milestone
Cliftonville 4-3 Glenavon
It says everything about the esteem in which Chris Scannell is held at Cliftonville that, on an afternoon that delivered seven goals in a fixture crucial to developments at both ends of the Carling Premiership, the loudest roar of appreciation in Saturday’s 4-3 defeat of Glenavon came just minutes after the Reds striker had poked his side in front.
Solitude’s matchday announcer — doubtless on the advice of club secretary and resident statistician Paul Treanor — took to the PA system to inform the St Patrick’s Day crowd that the 34th minute goal was Scannell’s landmark 150th for the north Belfast club.
There remains a collective will among the Reds faithful for the 34-year-old — second in the club’s all-time scoring charts — to go on and smash Dr Kevin McGarry’s long-standing tally of 172 and he took another step in that direction with strike 151 three minutes after the half-time interval.
That goal would eventually prove to be the matchwinner as the Reds, apparently cruising at 4-1 up and playing a brand of football that Glenavon simply could not cope with, were almost made to pay for a catalogue of missed opportunities when the Lurgan Blues almost staged a late fightback.
Matty Burrows — who had opened the scoring with a cool finish on 17 minutes — registered his second of the afternoon when an assistant referee deemed that his 78th minute effort had crept over the line prior to goalkeeper Ryan Brown’s intervention and, with the Reds wobbling, a similarly generous penalty award from the same official allowed Brian McCaul to get his name on the scoresheet and set up the most dramatic of finales.
Cliftonville were afforded an almost instant opportunity to re-claim some breathing space when they were awarded a dodgy spot-kick of their own but Ciaran Caldwell — who had earlier netted either side of Scannell’s milestone strike — was denied a hat-trick when the impressive Andy Coleman got down well to save.
Referee Arnold Hunter signalled the end of the madness shortly afterwards which meant that, thanks to Carrick Rangers’ shock defeat of Portadown on Friday night and Coleraine’s loss to Lisburn Distillery, Cliftonville’s hopes of securing a European berth had been improved, while Glenavon’s relegation fears had deepened.
It also ensured that Scannell’s landmark achievement did not go to waste.
“Chris has been a wonderful player for Cliftonville and you saw that with his two finishes,” said boss Tommy Breslin afterwards.
“He has always been a good example for players to follow but probably moreso today because we made a lot of bad decisions that very nearly came back to haunt us.
“The three points are obviously the main thing and I’d have settled for any sort of win when we were 1-0 down, but we need to take our chances when they come along. We’ve ended up winning by a single goal when at one stage it looked like we might be about to overhaul Portadown on goal difference and move outright into second place.
“We need to make better decisions and show a greater desire to get the fifth, sixth and seventh goals when those chances come.
“At times, I didn’t see that determination because we were more concerned with scoring a brilliant goal, with finding the top corner and with chipping the keeper from 25 yards. Take a look, see that there’s someone in a better position and make the right choice.
“I suppose it’s all about maturity and that will come with experience but we really don’t help ourselves sometimes and should never have been in a position where we were left hanging on at the end.”
Opposite number Gary Hamilton was pleased with the character his men showed to produce that late rally but admitted it would have been unfair had Glenavon gone on to steal a point from a game that they were second-best in for long stretches.
“I think you have to analyse the entire 90 minutes and be honest enough to say that Cliftonville definitely he deserved to win,” he said.
“What we can do, though, is take positives from the courage we showed towards the end and take that with us for the rest of the season.
“We’ve six games left to play now and all of them are against teams in the bottom half of the table so we have to go out and target putting a good run together.
“More than anything, I think belief will play a big part for us.
“You generally find that, whenever we concede a goal, we spend the next 10 or 15 minutes panicking that we’re going to concede another and it takes us a while to get back into our normal rhythm.
“We’re good enough to get ourselves out of this mess but we just need to have a little more confidence in ourselves. These six games will all be very tough but we’re up for the challenge.”