Portadown 1 Cliftonville 3
Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin has warned his troops against over-caution as they move ever closer to the Danske Bank Premiership title.
“This match was an object lesson that we must continue to play our natural, attacking football,” said Breslin.
“After we scored our first goal on eight minutes, we started playing defensively and let Portadown come into it and they could have drawn level by the break.”
But in his half-time pep talk, the astute boss ordered his players to go at the Ports and the outcome was a much easier win than even 3-1 suggested.
For within 10 minutes of the re-start, they had squandered no fewer than four chances, a combination of poor finishing and marvellous goalkeeping by David Miskelly between the Portadown posts.
“Six goals wouldn’t have flattered us,” said Breslin.
“We missed a lot of chances, but we were a different team when we played to our strengths and came forward.
“The worst thing we could do in our quest for the title would be looking over our shoulders at the chasing pack.
“I’ve told the players to go out and enjoy their football — the old one-game-at-a-time cliche.”
The chasing pack is a long way behind, with Crusaders nine points adrift and Linfield 16 in arrears. And, on the evidence of this crushing win over no-push-over Portadown, it’ll be a surprise if the Gibson Cup doesn’t find its way to Solitude.
To be honest, though, the three goals were gifts by a leaky Portadown defence.
Diarmuid O’Carroll’s opener was the result of a great move down left which ended with a superb delivery by Eamonn Seydak which the unmarked O’Carrol drilled home from an acute angle.
The Ports saw Brian Gartland and Kevin Braniff efforts fly wide either side of half-time, but then Cliftonville heeded Breslin’s ‘Attack!’ orders and wasted four opportunities — Joe Gormley, especially was off-target and could have netted a hat-trick within 15 minutes with Miskelly’s save from a point-blank header the pick of the bunch.
But the young striker made amends just after the hour when the Ports stood and stared at a long, high George McMullan free-kick and Gormley bundled the ball home at the second time of asking.
Portadown pulled one back almost immediately — the best goal of the match when a Braniff-Gary Twigg move set up substitute Sean Mackle and he fairly thumped it home from 12 yards.
Cliftonville, whose midfield had so far bossed the game, were reeling, but then Tim Mouncey committed football suicide with a truly awful back pass, in strode Liam Boyce and it was all over.
Portadown manager Ronnie McFall — keen that his side make the top six — was brutally honest.
“Our defending was terrible and the midfield weak,” he said.
“True, we had a penalty shout turned down, but that doesn’t mask the fact that we failed to deliver. David Miskelly was by far our best player and it could been five or six, but for him.
“We’ll have to improve if we are to make the top half, especially with closest rivals Coleraine and Ballinamallard both winning. I’m confident we’ll make it, but we really will have to improve on this showing.”