Resilient Reds praised by Breslin
Tommy Breslin has hailed his players for the turnaround in fortunes that sees them enter this afternoon's north Belfast derby looking down on Crusaders in the Danske Bank Premiership table.
The champions teetered on the brink of dropping out of the title race at the start of last month but have enjoyed a timely return to form, and thanks to the Crues' defeat at Ballymena United on Saturday, they currently boast the top-flight's longest unbeaten run with 11 outings since their last defeat – which came against today's opponents.
Since then, the Reds have found their feet again and will, according to Breslin, make the short trip to Seaview in buoyant mood.
"The players deserve credit for how they have responded to a difficult spell," he said.
"Things weren't going our way, we were finding results hard to come by and I think everyone was getting frustrated that the wee touches, passes and movements that were working last season suddenly weren't coming off anymore. We were lacking the small spark that can make all the difference and have had to work hard to address that.
"It was a case of just trying to get a win on the board and building from there, which is exactly what's happened."
An at times unconvincing defeat of Ballymena United on November 9 was followed up by a more emphatic League Cup elimination of Bangor before the ball was really set roaring by an epic victory over Coleraine that saw Cliftonville hit back from 2-0 and 3-2 down before going on to claim full points despite the dismissal of Joe Gormley.
Though the late concession of two goals earned just a draw from a winning position against Portadown, the Reds' fine form continued with a hammering of Linfield, ahead of Glenavon and Ballinamallard United being overcome either side of back-to-back wins against Ards.
All of which means that the Solitude side find themselves in second place in the table, one point ahead of their derby rivals and four behind Linfield – but Breslin has challenged his players to keep going.
"Obviously it's going to be a very tough game down at Seaview because Crusaders don't lose too many down there but we have it in us to go there and have a real go," he explained.
"They'll be looking to bounce back after being beaten by Ballymena at the weekend and, from their view, there's no better game than the derby to do that.
"We can only look after ourselves, though, and we're pleased with the form we've been in. The players have got their confidence back and you can see that in their performances – those things that weren't working are now having an effect and their football has been very good.
"An away game against Crusaders is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, fixtures in Irish League football and we'll need to be at our very best if we're going to come away with anything but we'll look forward to it as we always do."