Cliftonville 3 Coleraine 1
Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin is too familiar with festive fortunes to get carried away by his side’s lead at the Premiership’s summit.
The Reds ensured they would be top of the pile at Christmas by stretching their advantage to seven points with Saturday’s victory over Coleraine but Breslin insists no one at the club will be getting carried away.
So often in the past has lofty yuletide status made way for a New Year dip in form and the manager is keen for his charges to focus simply on each new game as it comes along.
“Being in a decent position at this time of year isn’t anything new to us,” he said.
“I know I keep saying there’s a long way to go but that’s because there is. We’re only at the halfway stage of the season, so there’s no guessing what might or might not happen five, 10 or 15 matches down the line.
“What’s important is that we keep getting points in the board and, maybe a wee while down the line, we can assess where we are and try to take things from there.
“The players know that and will tell you the same thing. Every match in this league is difficult and you have to earn the right to play. Sometimes you might not
be able to impose yourself as you’d like and it’s all about adapting to try and get yourself the result.
“This wasn’t one of our better days but the players dug in when they needed to and took their chances when they came along so, while there were aspects of our performance we weren’t completely happy with, overall I have to be satisfied — especially against such good opposition.”
Liam Boyce opened the scoring early on and a deflected Joe Gormley effort doubled Cliftonville’s advantage before Curtis Allen pulled one back for the Bannsiders.
Coleraine produced a stirring second-half performance that looked certain to yield an equaliser only for lively substitute Diarmuid O’Carroll to tee Gormley up for the security goal 19 minutes from the end — much to visiting boss Oran Kearney’s obvious frustration.
“The difference was the ability to put the ball in the net when chances came,” he said.
“It’s not a day where I could go in there and criticise the players because, in terms of endeavour, heart and enthusiasm, everything that I asked of them was there, but we just lacked that bit of quality in the final third.
“At 2-1, it was one-way traffic at times and I thought we looked likely to get an equaliser and, maybe I’m being optimistic, but I thought if we’d scored during that period of pressure, we could have gone on to win it.”
The defeat saw Coleraine drop to fifth in the table and Kearney believes his men have more potential than they’re demonstrating.
“At this halfway stage, we’re probably a bit behind where I would like us to be,” he admitted. “We went through a little patch there where we drew a lot of matches 1-1 and, again, the difference in a lot of those games was our inability to find that killer goal.
“Had we turned one or two of those draws into wins, we’d be sitting a few places higher in the table but I’m sure a lot of other managers would say the same about their own teams.
“We know we have a good panel here but we’re just going through one of those difficult spells that you face from time to time. A few wins can turn that around for you and, though it’s easier said than done and simplistic to say so, that’s what we’ve got to keep working towards.”