Tommy Breslin hails battling Reds
CHAMPS LOOK LIKE THEIR OLD SELVES AT LAST
Tommy Breslin and Oran Kearney were both singing from the same hymnsheet after Saturday's Showgrounds goal fest.
Sloppy defending was the theme and, while Breslin's focus remains enhancing the ability of his defending champions to maintain pressure on league leaders Linfield, Kearney's need for improvement at the back is in sharp contrast.
Despite keeper Conor Devlin conceding three times at the Showgrounds, Breslin remains upbeat about his side's continued improvement in form.
"Our defending needs to be tighter but I am pleased with the resolve we displayed and our strength of character," he said.
"If we can cut out the defensive errors we give ourselves a real chance to challenge Linfield and Crusaders.
"I see improvement in our play and that pleases me."
Coleraine's latest reverse – their fourth at home this term – sent them tumbling into the bottom four, where derby rivals Ballymena United are also fighting to avoid being sucked into the relegation battle.
The Bannsiders got off to the best possible start with Gary Browne nodding home the opener before Eoin Bradley showed considerable composure to make it 2-0 on the half-hour.
Cliftonville had not been without chances of their own in between times, with home goalkeeper Wayne Drummond repelling a vicious half-volley from Joe Gormley before producing inch-perfect acrobatics to keep out Martin Donnelly.
They got the goal their pressure deserved just before the interval, though, when Liam Boyce rose highest to connect with Eamonn Seydak's curling cross and the second period wasn't long gone before they were all square; Gormley showing greater hunger than Howard Beverland to hook the ball over the advancing Drummond.
Within minutes, however, Coleraine were back in front again thanks to Aaron Canning getting the slightest of touches on Stephen Carson's free-kick delivery.
But back came Cliftonville again – Boyce nodding home once more, this time from another fantastic Donnelly corner.
Almost immediately, the champions' hopes were dealt a potentially fatal blow when referee Hugh Carvill flashed a second yellow card and then a red in Gormley's direction following a challenge on Paul Owens – much to the obvious frustration of Breslin, who must make do without the services of his 19-goal hitman at Portadown next weekend.
"I don't think Joe deserved his first-half booking," he explained. "For me, he did nothing wrong and was actually on the receiving end. He should have had a free-kick!
"But I'd rather talk about the positives and the excellent performance my players put in throughout the game."
Even so, it was the Reds who continued to pour forward and Boyce must have thought he had secured a hat-trick of headed goals only to be denied by Drummond, who had earlier got fingertips to Diarmuid O'Carroll's overhead kick.
At the other end, Shane Jennings should really have put Coleraine ahead for the third time but, with virtually his first touch after being introduced from the bench, he inexplicably shot weakly at Conor Devlin when he seemed to have all the time in the world to pick his spot.
That miss would prove costly because, with nine minutes to spare, Cliftonville won it.
O'Carroll and Boyce teamed up to nudge possession into Donnelly's direction and, after touching the ball over the head of Steven Douglas and jinking past Beverland, the winger produced a grounded shot which, though blocked by Drummond, fell favourably for O'Carroll to stroke home and secure three precious points.
Coleraine haven't managed a clean sheet in 19 league and cup games and face a trip to Crusaders next weekend having failed to win at Seaview on their last six visits.
Kearney said: "We have to pick ourselves up and move on. We made basic errors at the back which cost us and the challenge is to improve our ability to defend."
Coleraine: Drummond, Watt, Douglas, Beverland, McIlmoyle, Carson (Stewart, 84 mins), Tommons, Canning, Owens (J Bradley 78, mins), E Bradley, Browne (Jennings, 69 mins).
Cliftonville: Devlin, R Scannell, Smyth, McGovern (Doherty, 76 mins), Seydak, O'Carroll (C Scannell, 86 mins), Catney, Johnston, Donnelly (Murray, 87 mins), Gormley, Boyce.
Referee: Hugh Carvill (Belfast)