Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin praises Martin Donnelly after inspired display
Cliftonville 1 Ballinamallard United 0: Martin Donnelly was the hero as Cliftonville maintained their unbeaten streak with a nervy victory over Ballinamallard United – and boss Tommy Breslin has been delighted with the winger's recent impact.
"Going back to the Linfield game and probably even a wee bit before that, Martin's performances have been very good," he explained.
"He's playing with confidence and he looks threatening every time he gets the ball, plus he's now scored in three matches running and he deserves the adulation from the crowd because he's been excellent recently."
Donnelly's goal – an emphatic first-time finish after Mark Stafford had failed to clear in the aftermath of George McMullan striking the post – lifted the Reds above Crusaders ahead of the sides locking horns on derby duty this Thursday and, having had to show their mettle in overcoming the Mallards, Breslin expects another testing encounter.
"Games against the Crues are always difficult no matter who you are, which is why they've been up at the top end of the table for so many years," he said.
"We were made to work very hard by Ballinamallard and I would expect Thursday's match to be even tougher still, but we've been in good form over the last wee while and the players are looking forward to it."
Crusaders' slip-up against Ballymena United means Cliftonville now boast the Premiership's longest unbeaten run, but their 11 game streak was put under continued threat by the visitors on Saturday.
Duwayne McManus struck the crossbar when it looked easier to score early on and Andy Crawford was unlucky to see his drilled effort turned against the post by goalkeeper Conor Devlin while, in the second half, McManus sent a blistering attempt inches wide of the mark before both Jason McCartney and Steve Feeney were left holding their head thanks to near misses.
Breslin added: "Box-to-box, we did quite well and there was some good football out of us but it was just the final pass which was letting us down at times and I suppose you have to give Ballinamallard credit for that."
Opposite number Whitey Anderson was left to contemplate a cheeky loan raid on the champions once the January transfer window opens.
He said: "Joe Gormley has scored more goals this season than my entire squad put together so maybe it's time he came down to Ballinamallard.
"If we had someone who could put the ball in the net, it would have made such a difference in so many of our games.
"We hit the woodwork twice but, if those chances had fallen to Cliftonville's strikers, I don't think they'd have missed them."
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, R Scannell, McMullan, Donnelly, Seydak, Smyth, Catney, Gormley, Murray, Boyce. Subs: McNally, C Scannell, O'Carroll (for Gormley, 79 mins), Cosgrove (for Murray, 84 mins), Doherty (for McMullan, 72 mins).
BALLINAMALLARD: Rouse, Keohane, Stafford, Hutchinson, Crawford, McCartney, Currie, Feeney, McManus, N Beacom, Campbell. Subs: Cashel, C Beacom (for Currie, 82 mins), Sheridan (for Crawford, 82 mins), Phair, Courtney (for McManus, 79 mins).
Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)