Linfield 1 Cliftonville 2
It's hard to tell whether or not Eddie Patterson truly believes Cliftonville can become Carling Premiership champions — but on the basis of Saturday’s win over Linfield, he’d need to start.
That may seem a little far fetched bearing in mind it has hardly been a vintage campaign so far for the Reds, and certainly not up to the standard they set a couple of seasons ago when they just ran out of steam after pushing the Big Two in the race for the Gibson Cup.
However, the cold hard facts garnered from a closer look at the league table suggests that Patterson’s men are very much in the mix.
The Reds have played two games less than new leaders Glentoran, and should they win them, then the north Belfast side would be just two points behind the Glens.
Events at Windsor Park on Saturday threw the title race wide open and Crusaders are back in it too as they are currently only two points behind defending champions Glentoran.
Patterson at least thinks he has a team capable of putting the pressure on the top but what he wants to see is a continued repeat of the performance that saw off the Blues.
Then, if they can put together a run of results, the dream of a first title since 1998 could be alive at Solitude.
“Of late we have been conceding too many silly goals but that’s something we can deal with and work on,” said Patterson.
“We need to go on a run now after beating Linfield like we have done in previous seasons. The season before last we went something like 13 or 14 games unbeaten after beating them.
“We haven’t done that this season, we didn’t do it last season, so if we can get that sort of run going then we there or thereabouts.
“It’s our aim to get up there but we have an inconsistency that we have to deal with.”
While it was a terrific all-round team display from Cliftonville in putting David Jeffrey’s side to the sword, two men stood out for praise.
Chris Scannell and Liam Boyce were truly outstanding.
Scannell may not have been on the scoresheet — the experienced striker left that to the kids in Ciaran Caldwell and Boyce — but his workrate was phenomenal. And at the other end of the age spectrum, Boyce kept up the form that has seen him earmarked as the next big mover away, to a career across the water.
“Scannell is a workhorse,” said Patterson. “The amount of work he puts in on the pitch is unbelievable. We always say that our strikers are the first line of defence and they put in so much effort. That’s why Linfield had so few efforts, because of the work from the back to the front.
“And in Boyce we have one of the best young players around.
“He did a few things late on in the game, losing the ball and putting us under a bit of pressure that showed his inexperience, but he will learn from that.
“He’s only 19 and I will tell you, in about a year’s time he is going to be some player.
“I only hope that if he leaves Cliftonville he moves to England.”
For Linfield, it was a bad day at the office — in fact it was the continuation of a few bad days.
The Blues have now taken just one point from a possible nine in the league and boss Jeffrey was almost literally lost for words as he tried to fathom the reason behind his side’s poor display.
The home side, for whom Paul Munster equalised Caldwell’s opener just before half time, had played reasonably well against Glentoran the previous week in the Co-operative Insurance Cup, but on Saturday, particularly in the second half, they were dreadful.
While Jeffrey spoke with the assembled press after the game, a carol service was taking place in the next room.
But there was very little festive cheer and if Linfield aren’t careful, they could be about to suffer a blue Christmas.
And the boss drew comparisons to the 4-0 hammering at the hands of the Reds at Solitude earlier in the campaign.
“I can’t work it out,” he said. “Up there that night I thought first half we were the better side and should have been a couple of goals up and then buckled in the second half and the same thing happened here. We were pushing and were susceptible on the break but while we had a lot of the ball we didn’t do an awful lot with it.
“It’s an important time of year but that was a bitty display. I can’t see how we can go from last week to today . I really can’t have that second half performance.
“I know that we had 10 people out injured but the reality is that team should have been good enough to win that match and it’s not good enough for this club”