Portadown 0-1 Cliftonville: Jay Donnelly on target to seal victory over Ports
If Jay Donnelly's prospects were threatened by Darren Murray's anticipated arrival, the Cliftonville youngster sent out a perfectly timed message of his own capabilities on Saturday.
The 20-year-old demonstrated quick feet and ice-cool composure to register the only goal of an entertaining encounter with Portadown and maintain his side's 100% start to the new Danske Bank Premiership campaign.
Although Murray's summer transfer request had never been accepted by the Ports, the former Newry and Donegal Celtic starlet withdrew his appeal in the build-up to Saturday's showdown with the club he had expressed a very public desire to join and, while Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin does not try to hide his admiration for the New Lodge man, he's more than content with the options he has at his disposal.
"It's no secret we wanted Darren Murray," explained Breslin. "He is a great goalscorer and I think any team would like to have him but he has made his decision and I respect that.
"It is disappointing because he was someone we had our eye on but we have plenty of players who can take their chance.
"Davy McDaid and Jay Donnelly have started the season really well and Stephen Garrett is getting sharper every day and Chris Curran is back and doing well."
It had looked like being a frustrating afternoon for the visitors who, in addition to seeing both Martin Donnelly and James Knowles denied by the crossbar, also went close through Donnelly and McDaid during what was a confident performance from the north Belfast outfit.
Portadown, meanwhile, should have been at least a goal to the good at half-time with both Gary Twigg and Chris Ramsey passing up golden opportunities to break the deadlock.
The hosts were dealt a blow just before the interval when goalkeeper David Miskelly - whose inspirational form was a key reason Ronnie McFall's men boasted a 100% record of their own ahead of kick-off - was forced off with injury following an awkward fall, although replacement Billy Brennan proved his worth with a crucial stop to thwart Curran.
The breakthrough came with just over a quarter of an hour remaining when George McMullan claimed possession in the centre of the park and threaded a perfect pass from which Donnelly was able to work his magic.
McFall conceded his men were second best on the day but is nevertheless pleased to finally see the end of the end of speculation linking Murray with a switch to the Reds.
"There was a lot of talk about Darren Murray every day and every time I spoke to someone it's all they wanted to talk about," he said.
"But we said from the start we wanted to keep him and we are delighted he is staying. At the time, we just got on with it and thankfully it is done and dusted now.
"It is a big boost for the club and we are happy he wants to stay because he is a great talent."
That might not necessarily be the end of the saga, however, because Murray, who last week enjoyed a brief trial with Greenock Morton, is understood to be poised for a return to Scotland to train with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the coming days.
PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Casement, Breen, O'Hara, Redman, McMahon, Ramsey, Garrett, Stewart, Murray, Twigg. Subs: McAllister (McMahon, 64 mins), Oman, Brennan (Miskelly, 43 mins), Mouncey (Stewart, 79 mins), Richardson.
CLIFTONVILLE: Burke, Bonner, Flynn, Knowles, Curran, McMullan, McDaid, M Donnelly, Seydak, J Donnelly, Cosgrove. Subs: Garrett (Curran, 77 mins), Smyth, Catney, Winchester (J Donnelly, 90 mins), Murray (M Donnelly, 80 mins).
Man of the match: George McMullan
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown)