Belfast Telegraph

Tommy Breslin sends out warning to rivals that Cliftonville are back in the title hunt

Tommy Breslin has delivered a message that is sure to put Cliftonville's Premiership title rivals on red alert – the champions have got their spark back!

And as if being on a six-match unbeaten run isn't enough to make everyone else sit up and take notice of the Solitude side, Breslin hasn't ruled out the possibility of adding even more quality to his squad in January in the shape of Portadown star Kevin Braniff.

As well as that club captain Chris Scannell is edging closer to a first start since he tore his Achilies tendon just a couple of weeks into last season.

Add all that together and it is clear that the feelgood fact has returned to the Cliftonville Road.

And good things happen when Cliftonville are feeling good.

In recent weeks they have come from behind to draw with Warrenpoint Town, Glentoran and Dungannon Swifts, had to tough it out to beat Ballymena United 2-1 and last Saturday they were 2-0 down and 3-1 down before Diarmuid O'Carroll's 90th minute winner gave them a 4-3 victory at Coleraine.

The points haven't just pushed the Reds into third place in the Danske Bank Premiership table, they have also put smiles back on the player's faces.

"Everyone has been great in training all season. The players have been bright and they've worked hard," said Breslin.

"I can see the difference that a couple of wins has made though. Last week and this week at training there has been a bit more excitement.

"The spark is back within the squad.

"Now they have to carry that forward and go from putting a couple of wins on the board to turning it into a run."

This time last year the Reds were on an amazing winning run and as they kept on chalking up the victories they became uncatchable.

Although both leaders Linfield and second placed Crusaders have been sweeping the opposition aside over the last couple of months Cliftonville and Glentoran are still very much in the title hunt – fifth placed Portadown may have something to say about that too.

"A lot has been said and written about Crusaders going 19 games unbeaten and the run that Linfield were on before they lost to Dungannon last Saturday," said Breslin.

"They both deserve credit for that, but the good thing from my point of view is that we are only two points behind Crusaders and five behind Linfield and that's with teams really stepping up against us.

"We've ground out a couple of wins, in another couple of games we've taken a point when we looked dead and buried and those things are really encouraging.

"We played well at Coleraine last week and we didn't deserve to be 2-0 down.

"We had to battle and different qualities come into it then. The character shone through and sometimes a performance like that and winning in that way is better than going out and winning comfortably."

Cliftonville now face Portadown tomorrow. It was the Shamrock Park men who ended the Reds year-long unbeaten home run back in August, but it will be a different Ports team on the pitch this time.

Braniff was put on the transfer list last week after a bust-up with manager Ronnie McFall and looks set to leave the club in January.

Where he goes remains to be seen, but Breslin has hinted at an attempt to lure the talented 30-year-old to north-Belfast.

"Kevin Braniff is among the most gifted players in the league," said Breslin.

"At this stage as far as I understand it there hasn't been a price put on his head or Portadown haven't said what they are prepared to take for him.

"We're still six weeks away from the transfer window opening, so I think it's a case of watch this space and see what happens.

"He is a quality player and we'd always want to be linked with quality players."

There is no shortage of quality already in the Solitude squad, but being able to put all of his best players on the pitch at the same time this season has been a problem.

And that, as much as anything, has impacted on their form which saw them go through a run of winning just twice in seven games.

"Stephen Garrett is going to be out for six to eight weeks," said Breslin.

"Our injuries had been clearing up and I was looking forward to having a settled team – Stephen being out was the only change I made to the team last week.

"Barry Johnston is back in the team, Ryan Catney is fitter, Liam Boyce is fitter after he was carrying a knock, we've Marc Smyth back too, but we've had Ronan Scannell, George McMullan and Ciaran Caldwell out.

"I think sometimes manager don't realise the value of a player until they are out."

That was never the case with Chris Scannell (pictured). Everyone at Solitude knows his value and with Joe Gormley suspended for the trip to Shamrock Park the No.9's name could be in the starting line up for the first time in 15 months.

"Chris has been involved and he came on for the last 10 minutes last Saturday when I thought we needed some fresh legs," said Breslin.

"He's chomping at the bit, but he is being patient too and he knows that he has to wait until his opportunity comes along."

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