Ballymena United 0 Cliftonville 8
Published 20/11/2012 | 08:00
Tommy Breslin is not the sort of manager prone to outlandish or bombastic proclamations but when he starts talking about other teams now playing catch-up, you know Cliftonville are real title contenders.
As a statement of intent, the dismantling of defending champions Linfield last week was impressive enough, but Saturday’s epic, eight-goal footballing masterclass against Ballymena United at the Showgrounds should leave everyone aghast and open-mouthed.
I’ll say it if Tommy won’t — get the blue ribbons off the Gibson Cup and keep the red and white ones — the title is bound for north Belfast.
Yes, it’s only November and there’s sure to be much more drama to come but, with seven points in hand over nearest challengers Crusaders, and a whopping 14 in front of Linfield, only a collapse of Devon Loch proportions will stop them in their tracks.
They will, of course, face tougher obstacles than the Sky Blues’ pathetic efforts on Saturday, and while they are rightly lauded for their footballing ability, there is a growing steely determination and, more tellingly, a belief that they are bound for glory.
“We’re favourites but we’ve spent the last six or seven years chasing people and it’s very difficult,” admitted Breslin.
“I think last season we had a 10 or 11-game unbeaten run and we never got closer than four points, so other teams must win. We’re in a nice position where we don’t have to win every week.
“We encourage them to play and we try and take the pressure off them, but I’m sure the pressure, if we’re still in the same position later in the season, will start. But at the minute there’s no pressure.
“They’re all very down to earth, there’s a good balance of youth and experience. If anyone gets above their station, the players are probably the first to bring him down.”
Down the dressing room corridor, Glenn Ferguson’s side were shell-shocked. It appeared that lessons hadn’t been learnt from the 6-0 drubbing by Linfield 12 days earlier but now they face a double header against the Blues in the league and then the County Antrim Shield final. It will say much about their character.
“Linfield played their best football of the season in a 25-minute spell and we stood off them and they punished us, so I told them it couldn’t happen again,” Ferguson said.
“If you match teams up with work-rate, commitment and desire and want to win the ball and second balls then you have a chance. We didn’t do that and we got punished.
“It’s a test for us now to see what type of characters we have in there. If I was a player after being dumped 8-0, I wouldn’t be going out.
“When I didn’t play well, I went home and had a good think about it and tried to put it right the next week and I hope the boys in there are in the same situation.”
To add injury to insult, Ferguson also learned that powerhouse defender Johnny Taylor will play no further part in his plans for this season, his knee injury needing an operation to put it right.
The procedure to put things right with his fit players may prove just as difficult.