Cliftonville on the march
Cliftonville 4 Glentoran 1: As if it wasn't daunting enough that Tommy Breslin believes Cliftonville have yet to hit top gear, defences across the Danske Bank Premiership will be quaking in their boots at the prospect of Chris Scannell's imminent comeback.
The Reds produced their best performance of the season to sweep Glentoran aside at Solitude and, afterwards, Breslin – who will run the rule over Scannell in an Inver Park friendly with Larne on Wednesday evening – warned that his side will only get better.
"As a team and as individuals, we looked to be getting back to the sort of level we know we can compete at," he said.
"Maybe there was some kind of hangover from Europe and we had players struggling with niggles here and there, with all of that adding together to stop us from hitting the ground the way we would have liked to.
"We were still getting results but we knew ourselves that performances weren't what they could have been. There was no great panic over it because we felt things would come good in time, it was just a case of making sure we looked after the basics and the rest would follow.
"We've kept things upbeat in training and had two very good sessions last week, where the boys looked sharp and raring to go and they brought that with them into the Glentoran game."
Liam Boyce sent the champions on their way with a third minute opener and then provided the assist from which Martin Donnelly doubled the advantage on the stroke of half-time.
Glentoran saw a host of opportunities come and go thereafter, with Cliftonville goalkeeper Conor Devlin making superb reaction stops to keep Aaron Boyd and Jay Magee at bay before substitute Mark Miskimmin finally got the better of him to reduce the arrears on 66 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, however, Jimmy Callacher's trip on Stephen Garrett allowed Boyce to double his personal tally from the penalty spot ahead of Joe Gormley's 11th strike of the season which condemned the east Belfast side to their second successive 4-1 defeat at Solitude.
Just over a year ago, an Achilles tendon injury sustained in a 1-1 draw with the Glens at the same venue had looked set to cut skipper Scannell's career short but, after watching his team mates maintain their place at the top of the table, the 36-year-old is hopeful of declaring himself available for selection in the near future following a long road to recovery.
"I would have to come in at nights (after training) and be sore for two or three days and I was talking to the doctors and physios, who were telling me you have to expect this and gradually, instead of having pain for three days afterwards, it was two days, one day and then, at a training session last week, I realised I actually wasn't thinking about it – I was going out and just doing it," explained Scannell.
"I'm not saying it was a miracle recovery or anything. It was still a bit tender and sore but that's when it dawned on me that this is fine and I can actually go and play.
"I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back. I don't really think I need to prove to the manager, he was very confident and treated me very well when I came out of contract. He came and offered me a new one but I wouldn't sign until I knew I was fit."
While it was a day of positives in the home camp, the man who originally handed Scannell the Cliftonville captaincy, Eddie Patterson, was frustrated at the manner in which his Glentoran team crumbled.
"I felt that certain players were't giving it their all for 90 minutes," he said.
"I do feel that some big decisions went against us and heads were dropping all over the park. I don't want to say too much without seeing it on TV first but the penalty looked soft from where I was standing and Jimmy Callacher tells me he hasn't made any contact, while Stephen Garrett's reportedly saying he'll never get an easier penalty in his life.
"You'll get inconsistency from a young squad, I've always said that – even when I was Cliftonville manager – but it doesn't mean you can just accept things you're not happy with and, as far as our more experienced players were concerned, I don't think enough did what they could to help the young lads along."