Ballinamallard 1 Cliftonville 3
Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin says his whole squad have a role to play as they close in on a busy festive schedule.
The Reds maintained their seven point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with a 3-1 defeat of Ballinamallard United at Ferney Park on Saturday despite leaving the in-form Joe Gormley and November Player of the Month James Knowles on the bench until the latter stages.
“You’re never going to do well if you’re relying on 11, 12 or 13 players,” said Breslin.
“You’re going to need upwards of 20 over the course of the season and all of the boys understand that. Being taken out of the team doesn’t mean you’re not playing well, it just means the squad is being utilised.
“Different games suit different kinds of players and it’s something we’ve done before to mix things up a little.
“Joe has done really well for us and so has James, but players like Diarmuid O’Carroll and Barry Johnston have also impressed when they’ve come on as subs so
it’s just a case of trying to strike a balance and picking a team which you hope is good enough to win the match.”
Saturday’s selection did just that, although they had to weather a second half storm after two early Marc Smyth goals appeared to have the Reds cruising to victory.
The towering defender pounced for a neat far-post finish on five minutes before rising to register a header midway through an opening period that was virtually one-way traffic throughout.
The half-time introductions of Chris Curran and Andy Crawford transformed Ballinamallard’s performance, though, and they were rewarded for that improvement when David Kee curled home a delightful 58th minute free-kick.
Goalkeeper Conor Devlin then came to Cliftonville’s rescue with saves from Ryan Campbell and Jason McCartney before Crawford and Mark Stafford were inches away from dragging the Mallards level.
Just when an equaliser looked inevitable, up popped Stephen Garrett with a powerful finish that Ferney Park boss Whitey Anderson admitted knocked the stuffing out of his team.
“Unfortunately, we were caught on the break but, before that, we had three great chances to level,” he said.
“I felt their keeper Conor Devlin was outstanding in the second half and made at least three vital saves when we had the upper edge.
“I think the changes with Curran and Crawford coming on at the break really gave us a lift. We sprung into action, created a few chances and were well in it when we got the goal back.
“What was disappointing was that we’d already conceded two goals from set pieces. We just didn’t mark up and that’s something we’ve been strong on all season.
“That was a shame because, although Cliftonville had a lot of the ball, they didn’t really hurt us from play.”