Getting back to basics has steadied the ship, says Cliftonville star Catney
Ballymena United 0 Cliftonville 1: On A day when rolled-up sleeves, puffed-out chests and a never-say-die attitude were called for then there's no better time for your captain to rise to the occasion.
Ryan Catney answered Cliftonville's clarion call with aplomb, the largely unheralded midfield general winning the battle in the centre of the Ballymena Showgrounds pitch that ultimately clinched the war for three most welcome points.
With two defeats on the trot it wasn't a day for the free-flowing, jaw-dropping joyous football that so thrilled local fans last season and a repeat of that 8-0 win against the Sky Blues was never on the cards.
But for Catney, deputising for the injured George McMullan, it was a captain's display and thanks to Joe Gormley's eye for a goal – his 10th of the season – the Reds moved back onto the summit of the table.
"People were trying to make it out to be a crisis but we just let our standards slip a wee bit," admitted Catney afterwards.
"Because we set our standards so high I think we just dropped off the pace a little bit, so we just said to get back to the basics and I think we did and we'll take a 1-0 win all day.
"That 8-0 was a freak result but Ballymena really put it up to us but 1-0 will do us.
"We're learning as we go along that being champions (means) people are upping their work-rate against us and getting in our faces, basically doing what we did last year.
"We're going have to start coping with it because we know now what everyone is going to do us.
"There's no real pressure on us, it certainly hasn't come from our changing room, we just go out and Bressy (Tommy Breslin) just tells us to go out and play like we did last year and kick on."
Like all good generals he was happy to pass the praise onto his fellow troops, Joe McNeill filling the spot usually occupied by Catney's other footballing half, Barry Johnston.
"Most games are won and lost there, I think if you win the battle in there then you're well on the way," he added.
"I think Joe McNeill played really well in there too but collectively as a team we were much more solid.
"We were really hard to break down with Marc Smyth and Jaimie McGovern at the back."
As for holding onto the armband, that's a fight he's not likely to win, but Catney says he'll gladly surrender it.
"It's a great honour to be captain of the champions but I'm just keeping the armband warm for George McMullan until he comes back," he insisted.
"He's itching to get back and he can gladly have it when he comes back."
It could have been so much better for the home side, who had to play for the last quarter of an hour with 10 men after the dismissal of Aaron Stewart.
Gary Liggett smacked a header over the target before Ally Teggart somehow screwed the ball wide when he looks odds-on to score.
But Glenn Ferguson, who was happy with how his side bounced back from Gormley's third minute decider, spared his winger's blushes.
"Ally's got himself into that position, he's played really well for us in every game this season and he's in there with his head in his hands because he's gutted he's missed the chance.
"But he'll get more chances and take them before the season's out," Ferguson said.
"I just tell the players that when the 90 minutes is over, we've got to take the positives from the game, there's no point dwelling on the mistakes or the missed chances."