Warrenpoint Town 2 Cliftonville 4: Cliftonville captain Ryan Catney was the first to admit that his side weren't at the races in the opening stages of Saturday's match against Warrenpoint Town at Stangmore Park but, once the midfielder got a rare goal to put his side 2-1 in front, Joe Gormley took over.
Town had gone in front through a Stephen Hughes strike on seven minutes and proceeded to take control of the game after that with the league champions struggling to come to terms with a side many have tipped to go straight back down to Championship 1 at the end of the season.
However, Gormley struck just past the midway point of the half to level and when Catney rifled in four minutes after the break, it looked as if the Reds would go on to a comfortable win.
Warrenpoint had other ideas, though, and, after levelling through Stephen McCabe's penalty on the hour, only some outstanding goalkeeping from Conor Devlin kept the visitors in it before Gormley struck twice to seal his hat-trick and the third 4-2 win in a row for Tommy Breslin's men.
"We weren't really ourselves in the first and we don't really know for what reason that was," said Catney.
"Once I got that goal in the second half to go 2-1 up, from then on, as everybody knows, Joe just keeps on scoring. He got another two in the second half after his goal in the first half and he just seems like he can score whenever he wants. It's crazy.
"He's stepped up to the plate again. Liam [Boyce] was on the bench with a niggly injury and there was no point in risking it but when you have Joe on the pitch, you just know he is going to score goals at any time. That's another three and seven in three games and you can't really argue with that."
With Catney's midfield partner Barry Johnston having to exit at the interval following a hefty challenge from Liam Bagnall, the Reds skipper was delighted with the impact of sub Joe McNeill.
"Barry got a bit of rough tackle on his ankle and, having played with him all last season, we've built up a good partnership. But I thought when Joe McNeill came on he was excellent. He provided a lot of energy, won a lot of balls and broke a lot of the play up," said Catney, who was full of praise for Warrenpoint at the end of a pulsating encounter that could have gone either way.
"We didn't really know how good they were but I was pleasantly surprised. In the first 15 minutes, they really put it up to us and, to be honest, we weren't really expecting that. We had the attitude that we were going to go out and try and impose our game on them in the early stages but we just couldn't get it going for some reason. I was really impressed with Warrenpoint – their work rate, their passing and they really hounded us down and they really made us battle for three points."
While Catney was delighted to have scored a rare goal at an important stage of the match, he is well aware that six conceded in three games is hardly title-retaining form.
"We don't want to be conceding two goals every game," he added.
"I thought Conor Devlin was excellent and he had three, four or maybe even five great saves. It's not really fair on him as we should be doing a better job defensively to help him out. He strives for clean sheets and he's disappointed to concede another two and that's six in three games."
WARRENPOINT TOWN : J Parr, Moan, M Hughes, Boyle, Cowan, Devlin, McCabe (Grant 64 mins) S Parr, Bagnall, D Hughes (Johnston 76 mins), S Hughes. Subs not used: Kearns, Smith, McGrath.
Scorers: Hughes (7 mins), McCabe (61 mins).
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, Johnston (McNeill H-T), Garrett, O'Carroll (Donnelly 68 mins), Seydak (R Scannell 82 mins), Catney, Gormley, Curran, Cosgrove, McVeigh. Subs not used: Smyth, Boyce.
Scorers: Gormley (25, 49, 77), Catney (49)
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon)