Ballymena United 1 Cliftonville 1: The ‘F’ word was never too far from Eddie Patterson’s lips on Saturday, before, during and after Cliftonville’s battling draw with Ballymena United.
Frustration would sum up the Reds’ manager’s lot at the moment and, with two games in a week coming up against Linfield and a replacements bench that looks so threadbare that old Mother Hubbard would feel right at home, his angst is understandable.
He lost Barry Holland in the pre-match warm-up, adding to Ryan Catney’s absence, and with Liam Boyce now just a part of the club’s history and players carrying niggling injuries, it wasn’t the best preparation for a visit to The Showgrounds.
Both aspects showed in the early stages, the Sky Blues up for it right from the off and their disappointment will be that they couldn’t build on the excellent Gary McCutcheon’s fourth goal of the campaign with nine minutes gone.
The Reds hit back a minute before the break thanks to Peter Hutton’s barnstorming header but, when Stephen Garrett hit wide of an empty net and Barry Johnston hammered a 30-yard shot off the crossbar, Patterson’s frustration increased.
And it was still there after the final whistle when both sides settled for a point apiece — any more or less would have been unfair.
“We had a couple of boys — George McMullan and Stephen Garrett — carrying injuries and we lost Barry Holland just before the game to that disrupted our selection, and I should have taken George off earlier but we haven't got the cover and that's clear for everyone to see,” Patterson admitted.
“We had a couple of lads from the youth team on the bench today. We don’t have the selection of forwards that other clubs can bring in after Liam going. I thought we would have been able to bring more players in but that’s not to be.
“The finances aren’t there and we have to cut our cloth accordingly. We’ve two tough games in the space of a week — Linfield on Tuesday and then on Saturday again — and with the squad and injuries we’ve got it’s going to be very difficult.
“It’s usually the clubs with the biggest squads that do well in this league. We don’t have the experience and numbers in depth.
“That’s the way the club is though and we just have to get on with it. If we could keep players free from injury and suspension I’d be happy with the squad we’ve got but football’s a funny game and suspensions and injuries are always going to kick in.
“We’ve had our fair share of injuries over the seasons and it’s going to be even more of an obstacle for us with the fact that we’ve got such a small squad.”
McCutcheon’s growing partnership with the towering presence and looming menace that is Richard Gibson is one reason for the Sky Blue faithful to be hopeful though.
The Stranraer cheese-packer was the toast of the Showgrounds, clearly a grate signing by Walker, and the former Portadown striker certainly knows his onions in front of goal.
“I’m scoring a few now and it’s always nice. I felt a bit sharper today because I haven’t been happy with my performances although I’ve been getting goals,” said McCutcheon.
“We’ve probably played four or five of the teams you’d expect to be in the top six so the start we’ve had is quite encouraging and we’ve got to keep that up against supposed lower sides, but every game is difficult in this league.”
With so many personnel changes, McCutcheon admits it has been difficult, but with minder Gibson alongside him, he’s beginning to feel right at home.
“It’s taken a wee bit of time but we’re all getting to know each other now and hopefully there’s more to come,” he added.
“Gibbo’s an absolute man mountain, I just feed off him and he’s a real handful for anyone playing against him. It must be so difficult for defenders to play against him but he’s also a very decent player.
“We have to show consistency and play the way we’ve played against the top teams and if we do that then we shouldn’t have any problems.”