Cliftonville's run goes on but Lyttle still wants more
Cliftonville 4-2 Ballymena United
Gerard Lyttle says that he won't stop striving for perfection after his Cliftonville side made it 11 Premiership games without defeat on Saturday.
A whirlwind start had the Reds three up against a shell-shocked Ballymena United, who roared back to within touching distance of parity before having their hopes dashed with a fourth concession seven minutes from time.
Cliftonville have been no strangers to dishing out annihilations where the Sky Blues are concerned with five, six, seven and even an eight-goal victory to their name in recent years but Lyttle admitted to some concern that his troops almost threw their early advantage away at the weekend.
"I suppose so long as you're scoring goals, winning games and picking up points, that's all that really matters but there's a big part of me that always feels you can do things better," he said.
"We played well here and had a few chances to really kill things off. Chris Curran was unlucky to hit the post and Marty Donnelly sent one just wide; if one of those goes in, it's a whole different story and we might even have gone on to win by a bigger margin.
"You have to give Ballymena credit because they didn't throw the towel in and our response to having our lead cut to one goal was good. The players didn't sit back and defend what they had, they wanted to add to it and make sure we sealed the points so there's another big positive we can take.
"It would probably be nit-picking to be overly critical, but that's the way I am. I'll always aim for perfection."
After Curran had chipped Cliftonville in front after just five minutes, a brace of Davy McDaid penalties - one awarded for Willie Faulkner's foul on Curran and another when Alan Blayney felled Stephen Garrett - looked to have set the Reds on easy street only for Faulkner to shock Solitude with an outrageous rasping strike from distance.
Gary Thompson reduced the arrears further with a close-range conversion after home keeper Conor Devlin had saved from David Cushley and Matthew Tipton.
United's hopes of rescuing a point were shattered when James Knowles had the day's final say, much to Lyttle's delight following the postponement of last week's scheduled meeting with Carrick Rangers.
"I'd been fearful that we might lose a bit of momentum with that game being off," he added. "We'd been on a good run and when you're winning, you can't wait for the next game, so I was concerned that could upset us but maybe the break has done us good."
Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson had the opposite problem, with his players having contested an exacting 110 minutes in an Inver Park battle with Larne on Co Antrim Shield duty a few days earlier.
"Some of the boys might have been feeling it but I've always felt sheer adrenalin can get you through at times," he said. "Tiredness is often felt more in the mind than in the legs but when you're 3-0 down away to Cliftonville so early on, you're left wondering where that energy's coming from.
"We did well to get it back to 3-2 and had chances to equalise but it's the start that's killed us."
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Ives, Flynn, Curran, McDaid, Garrett, M Donnelly (George 77mins), Catney, Winchester (Knowles 4mins), Cosgrove. Subs: McMullan, Brennan, M Murray.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Blayney, Ervin, McNally, Taylor, McBride, Faulkner, T Kane, Thompson, Cushley (Ferguson 90 mins), Jenkins, Tipton (Henderson 81 mins). Subs: E Kane, Ruddy, McVey.
Man of the match: Chris Curran
Match rating: 8/10
Referee: Lee Tavinder (Dungannon).