Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin fires warning as champions stumble again
Cliftonville 1 Warrenpoint Town 1: There's a well-worn footballing truism that all managers uniformly adhere to when their team hasn't been able to put the ball in the back of the net.
"Our finishing wasn't great," they reflect, "but I'd be much more concerned if we weren't creating any chances."
Well, Cliftonville AREN'T creating chances and boss Tommy Breslin IS concerned.
Against Warrenpoint Town on Saturday, it took 79 minutes before the Reds forced the opposition goalkeeper into any sort of meaningful action and they were grateful that substitute Martin Murray was in the right place at the right time to nod home an equaliser after Daniel Hughes had put the visitors in front.
Even outside of Stephen McCabe's first-half penalty miss – awarded when Chris Curran was penalised for handling inside the area – it was the county Down minnows who fashioned the afternoon's best scoring opportunities with Stephen Hughes bringing a fantastic save out of Ryan Brown before lashing wide from a similar position moments later.
For all their industry, Cliftonville failed to really test Jonathan Parr at the other end.
He collected a few crosses in the first period and, though his team were on the back foot for long stretches after the interval, their defending was solid enough to ensure that Parr was a virtual spectator before being called upon to make quickfire stops from George McMullan and Joe Gormley in the immediate aftermath of the deadlock having been broken when the alert Hughes capitalised on a slack backpass from Ryan Catney – ironically one of only a handful in home colours who was on his mettle from the word go.
It was an all too familiar story for Cliftonville fans, who endured their team completing a recent derby defeat to Crusaders without getting a single shot on target while, in last week's victory over 10-man Ballinamallard United, retaining possession appeared to be of greater concern than going for the kill – not necessarily an unwise tactic away from home, but nor was it characteristic of the team which romped to title success last season.
"It's a worry that not just today but in recent weeks too that we aren't getting any shots away," said Breslin. "I clocked it at 79 minutes before we had our first one here and that's not good enough. It's hard to understand because in training we do so much work around creating chances and opening up opportunities but, come the matches themselves, we're nowhere near as lively in the final third."
The Reds currently boast six points fewer than at this same stage last term and their recent wobble can be traced back to the September 21 defeat by Glenavon.
Though they had already suffered Premiership setbacks at the hands of Portadown and Coleraine at their own north Belfast abode, it was at Mourneview Park that their aura really began to slip.
On that occasion, they carved out a host of gilt-edged chances but were simply unable to make them count. Against Dungannon Swifts seven days later, they were similarly wasteful en route to claiming a draw at Stangmore Park.
Since then, they have lacked a creative spark and often look positively determined to walk the ball through crowded goalmouths rather than having a good old fashioned rattle from here, there and everywhere – an issue which Breslin is keen to address.
"We're not as sharp as we should be and our passing's off what we would like, so there's work to be done and it's something we'll obviously have to get to work on in training.
"We're not quite at it all over the pitch but, obviously, if you're not having any shots then you're not going to score so that's a problem that needs rectified quickly if we want to go anywhere."
Warrenpoint's cruel reward for a battling point at the home of the champions was to slip to joint-bottom of the table, but boss Barry Gray insisted: "We've never been about looking over our shoulders or seeing what other teams are at – if we keep doing what we're doing, that's all we're concerned about.
"We're playing well and not always getting the rewards, but we'll keep sticking at it."
CLIFTONVILLE: Brown, McGovern, R Scannell, Johnston, Caldwell, McMullan, Garrett, Catney, Gormley, Curran, Boyce. Subs: McNally, Donnelly (for Garrett, 81 mins), O'Carroll (for Boyce, 69 mins), Cosgrove, Murray (for Johnston, 69 mins).
WARRENPOINT: J Parr, King, S Parr, D Hughes, S Hughes, McCabe, Smith, Bagnall, M Hughes, Moan, Boyle. Subs: Cowan, Kearns, Mooney (for McCabe, 90 mins), Grant (for S Hughes, 69 mins), McMullan (for D Hughes, 80 mins).
Referee: Ryan Stewart (Cardiff)