Belfast Telegraph

It's red alert for Cliftonville

By Graham Luney

So is the Danske Bank Premiership title race a two-horse sprint? It's perhaps too early to make a statement like that but all the indications are this is how things could unravel.

There are precious few signs that champions Cliftonville are going to waken from their slumber.

And their disappointing season suffered another hammer blow with confirmation that Chris Curran could be out for up to six weeks with a broken collarbone.

Curran has been one of the few bright lights in a gloomy campaign so far for the Reds and his absence will do little to calm nerves at Solitude.

Last season, the north-Belfast venue was a real fortress. Some teams had the beaten look before they even left the visitors' dressing room.

But Tommy Breslin's men have failed to overcome Portadown, Coleraine, Crusaders, Warrenpoint Town and now Dungannon Swifts in the league at Solitude.

They need a fresh injection of inspiration and desire or their hopes of retaining the title could be sunk by December.

Already eight points behind the Blues, the champions need to give themselves a shake.

Meanwhile, everything appears to be rosy in the garden at Windsor Park and Seaview.

Crusaders secured a massive three points at Portadown and their win was built on no-nonsense defending.

Colin Coates was in sublime form and he needed to be with Gary Twigg and Darren Murray on the prowl.

With no Declan Caddell and Paul Heatley in the squad, fans might have possessed a few doubts but the Hatchetmen reinforced their title credentials.

So did Linfield at Windsor Park, where not even an early Ards goal could knock them out of their stride.

The Blues have rediscovered that swagger that good teams have and they are looking formidable all over the park.

A huge amount of credit must go to the players and manager David Jeffrey.

There were fireworks at the Ballymena Showgrounds with seven goals and angry exchanges but the Glens can be excited by the promise of youngster Jordan Stewart.

Maybe it's time for Alan Hansen to tell Glens boss Eddie Patterson that he won't win anything with kids.

An unbeaten league run of five matches is impressive going from the Oval aces.

A day to remember

Crusaders produced a big win at Portadown to keep the pressure on Linfield at the top of the table. I thought the Crues might struggle to get a result in mid-Ulster after their exertions in the County Antrim Shield semi-final but, as they say in the business, they ground out the win. It was great to see Timmy Adamson back in the team and scoring goals. The Crues need him to keep firing if they want to finish top of the pile when it matters.

...And one to forget

The weather has been pretty bad and Ballymena United and their boss Glenn Ferguson must be thinking it's always raining on them. Tempers reached boiling point at the end of the game against Glentoran, but while fans were treated to a seven-goal thriller, it does nothing to ease fears that the Sky Blues will be sucked into a relegation scrap. It's one win in nine league matches for the Braidmen, but the fixture list has not been kind. Up next is a trip to Cliftonville on Saturday.

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