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Reds are heading in right direction after Ports win

Cliftonville 1-0 Portadown

By Conor McLaughlin

Published 01/02/2016

Mind games: Cliftonville’s Marc Smyth battles with Portadown’s Ken Oman
Mind games: Cliftonville’s Marc Smyth battles with Portadown’s Ken Oman

Marc Smyth says the link between Cliftonville employing the services of a sports psychologist and the team keeping their first back-to-back clean sheets for three-and-a-half months might be coincidental - but he's prepared to park any cynicism so long as the results keep coming.

The 33-year-old defender, who has recently returned to action following a lengthy injury lay-off, played his part as the Reds recorded their ninth consecutive shut-out against a Portadown team who have now lost every meeting with Cliftonville since January 2014.

Jay Donnelly's 33rd minute header was enough to separate the sides and, though Cliftonville have rarely struggled in the goalscoring stakes this term - a trend that looks unlikely to change following the transfer window acquisitions of Daniel Hughes from Warrenpoint Town and former Ports hotshot Darren Murray - they have sporadically leaked like a sieve at the other end of the park, leading boss Gerard 'Skin' Lyttle to try something new.

"For the last month or two, what we've had going forward has been as good as it's been; scoring three and four goals," explains Smyth.

"The problem was we were conceding stupid goals as a team and obviously the back four takes the brunt of that.

"Skin brought a psychologist in. It's something new and he said it was for the whole team but he only spoke to the back four, so I think that was psychology in itself.

"For me, it wouldn't have worked 10 years ago. I've had it before and hated it. Now as I'm getting older, I understand it a bit more and, from watching UFC and different things, you can see it works.

"I've bought into it and I'm not saying it's changed anything - it maybe just gives that wee reminder of what you need to do and your responsibilities.

"When you're conceding three goals to Carrick, when you're conceding three goals against Glenavon - teams you shouldn't be conceding three against, in my mind - you start to go 'is this going to keep happening?'. That's natural, so bringing him in just helps to clear your mind.

"It would have meant nothing if we'd gone and conceded three in the next game. The fact we've kept two clean sheets, you start to think you've taken something from it."

Cliftonville had to make do without Murray due to a gentleman's agreement between the clubs following the striker's switch from Shamrock Park earlier in the month and, while fellow new recruit Hughes made a positive impression on his home debut, it was youth system graduate Donnelly who made the telling impact; rising to nod a back-post header into the ground and beyond visiting keeper David Miskelly.

Portadown's best chances fell to Philip Lowry but, after scuffing an early strike following good work by Matthew Parker, the former Linfield and Derry City midfielder failed to generate sufficient power on a second-half header from Chris Casement's inviting cross.

"Our record against Cliftonville is very poor, especially here at Solitude, but that's the best we have played against them in quite a few years," said Ports assistant manager Kieran Harding.

"We created a few chances and on another day, we would have come away with something.

"We feel like we're heading in the right direction but we just need that one result that can get us out of the run we've been in."

Reds boss Lyttle, meanwhile, said: "We've strengthened really well during the transfer window and I now have a serious headache when it comes to picking a team, especially up front.

"Darren Murray couldn't play today because of an agreement between the clubs but he'll be available again next week, which will give me even more of a problem but a brilliant one to have."

CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Ives, Knowles, Curran, M Donnelly, Smyth, Catney, J Donnelly, Cosgrove, Hughes. Subs: Bonner, McMullan (M Donnelly, 83 mins), McDaid (Hughes, 75 mins), Garrett (Curran, 75 mins), George.

PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Casement, Redman, O'Hara, Mackle, Oman, Lowry, Gault, Parker, Twigg, Garrett. Subs: Ramsey, McAllister (Parker, 46 mins), Mouncey, Soares (Mackle, 75 mins), Withers.

Man of match: Jay Donnelly

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)

Belfast Telegraph

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