Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin has never been afraid to mix things up and try new ideas but his search for a winning formula took a particularly interesting twist ahead of Saturday’s convincing victory over Glentoran.
CLIFTONVILLE boss Tommy Breslin has never been afraid to mix things up and try new ideas but his search for a winning formula took a particularly interesting twist ahead of Saturday’s convincing victory over Glentoran.
Not only did the Reds line out with a number of personnel adopting new positions in a previously untested formation, they had also approached the game by enjoying a night of rest and relaxation when they would have normally been training.
Instead of skipping round cones and playing keep-ball on Thursday night, Breslin and his players headed to Belfast’s Grand Opera House to take in a play and take their minds off what was a huge match in their bid for European qualification.
It certainly had the desired effect with goals from Chris Scannell, Joe Gormley and George McMullan lifting Cliftonville up to second in the standings and to within just a single point of securing that Euro berth.
“Our performances over the last few weeks had not been up to the standards we’d set ourselves,” said Breslin.
“We had been struggling, trying to force things and it just wasn’t happening for us. It was important we didn’t just start feeling sorry for ourselves because you make your own luck, so the challenge was to go out, put the work in and try to find the levels of quality that we had shown earlier in the season.
“That’s exactly what the boys did and now we’re up to second, which is a nice position to be in, but we know we could still end up fourth and miss out on Europe completely.
“Obviously if Linfield beat Coleraine on Monday night, that’s us safe and we can go into next week’s Portadown match knowing that the pressure is off, to an extent, but we will still want to win the game.
“If Coleraine don’t get a result at Windsor, we only need a draw against Portadown but, again, three points will be the target.
“We’ve found a good level of performance here against Glentoran and I’ll expect more of the same next week regardless of what else happens in any other game.”
Scannell opened the scoring on 23 minutes with a delightfully sliced strike that caught Glens keeper Elliott Morris unaware before Jimmy Callacher’s hesitancy allowed Gormley in for a typically powerful finish to double the lead just before the hour mark.
McMullan put the seal on things with an awkward effort that Morris looked to have turned wide only for the ball to take a favourably wicked spin off the turf and creep into the net.
The Reds’ defending was every bit as impressive as their forward play, with David McAlinden producing a commanding performance alongside the marauding Ciaran Caldwell and solid Dermot McVeigh.
“We changed things a little bit at the back to see if it would make a difference because we’ve had problems at the back all season,” he added.
“Sometimes you just have to give things a go instead of settling for the same old, same old and thankfully it’s worked for us on this occasion.”
Opposite number — and Breslin’s former Solitude boss — Eddie Patterson endured an unhappy homecoming on the pitch but was nevertheless pleased with some good news off it.
“Just before kick-off, Jason Hill was told that his father had suffered a heart attack so we had to pull him out of the team and let him get away,” explained Patterson.
“After the match, though, we were all delighted to hear that Jason’s dad was sitting up and talking so things are hopefully not as bad as first feared.
“In fact, his dad gave him a rollocking for not staying here and playing the match. Regardless of what he says, though, Jason definitely made the right decision because your family comes first and, of course, he was right to go and be by his father’s side.
“Unfortunately for us, it meant we had to make changes just minutes before the match was due to start and it threw into disarray all the things we had been working on in training and over the last few weeks.
“That’s not Jason’s fault obviously, but it gave us an unexpected problem to contend with.
“I thought we generally did OK at times but you can’t concede goals the way we did and expect to win football matches.”
And Patterson made no bones about the fact that he plans a summer clear-out at the Oval.
“We already have Stephen McAlorum joining from Donegal Celtic and he will give us the sort of fight, drive and energy that I feel we lack in the middle of the park,” he added.
“In addition, I think we also need a centre-half, another defender and a striker, so there’s plenty of work to be done because the team needs freshened up.
“That won’t be easy, of course, but we’ll just have to get on and do the very best that we can.”