Tommy Breslin admits there’s a buzz around Solitude at the minute — and it’s not just because his Cliftonville side have just clocked up a club record equalling 11th win in a row.
Their latest triumph came by virtue of a dramatic injury-time own goal which condemned Glentoran to a first defeat in nine Carling Premiership outings and lifted the Reds five points above their opponents in third place.
“There’s always a positive atmosphere about the place, but it’s really gone up a level over the past number of weeks,” said Breslin.
“There seems to have been a real drive among the supporters to raise the volume higher and higher with each game and that really rubs off on the players, who are in turn doing their bit to keep the fans happy with some fantastic performances.
“To have won 11-in-a-row is a good achievement, but it doesn’t actually count for anything. Eight of those matches have been in the league but, despite those 24 points, we don’t seem to be getting any nearer to Linfield and Portadown at the top of the table so we just have to keep it going and try to find that level of performance in every game.
“The boys aren’t really talking about the run they’re on because they only focus on the next match, but yes, it’s definitely the sort of sequence you need to put together if you want to see yourselves considered as genuine challengers.”
That Cliftonville boast a 100 per cent record from their two Premiership meetings with Glentoran so far this season tells its own story.
The Reds’ record against the east-Belfast giants is anything but exemplary and Saturday’s victory — which, like their 1-0 success at The Oval in September, came thanks to an injury-time winner — was just their 45th in 245 league contests against the Glens.
It was certainly a deserved one, though, because the visitors offered very little going forward after taking an 18th minute lead through the first of the day’s two own goals.
The swirling north-Belfast winds threatened to take a Stephen Carson cross straight into the net and, though TV replays suggest the ball might just have been creeping wide of the far post, Cliftonville keeper John Connolly couldn’t possibly have known and his attempted intervention only succeeded in putting Scott Young’s men in front.
The Reds almost levelled minutes later when Rory Donnelly — being assessed by scouts from no fewer than FIFTEEN different clubs — dispossessed Sean Ward on the edge of the area before sending a delicate chip over goalkeeper Elliott Morris and frustratingly for the hosts, the crossbar as well.
Ryan Catney would clip that very same woodwork before the first-half was out and, after the interval, the red waves continued pouring forward with Chris Scannell and Ciaran Donaghy each going close with headers.
The introduction of substitute Gary Hamilton — whose return to fitness will mean Glentoran are likely to offer a more significant threat in tomorrow night’s County Antrim Shield final between the sides at The Oval — gave Cliftonville plenty to think about and his link-up play from deep positions provided the visitors with greater menace throughout his 31 minutes on the park.
Even so, it was home subs Donaghy, Ciaran Caldwell and Stephen Garrett who would go on to turn the tie on its head with Caldwell’s lofted pass putting Garrett in the clear for a coolly taken 72nd minute leveller.
Donaghy thought he’d won it four minutes from the end only to see his header nodded off the line by Jim O’Hanlon but, deep into injury-time, it was the defender’s presence in a congested six-yard area which led to Ward cannoning a clearance against team mate Ciaran Martyn and into the back of the net.
“You can’t legislate for something like that happening,” said a downbeat Scott Young afterwards.
“It wouldn’t be fair for me to criticise any of my players because they worked so, so hard only to be undone by some very bad luck right at the end.
“The ball has fallen inside the area and, as you’d expect him to do, Sean Ward’s tried to clear the danger and it’s hit one of our own players and gone in. It’s hard to guard against something like that happening but there’s nothing we can do about it now.
“We are where we are in terms of injuries and young players being thrown in and I’m sick of talking about that. We just have to make the most of what we’ve got and get on with things as best we can.”
“There’s a big game on Tuesday night and after losing in such a sickening manner, I might not need much of a team talk for that one.”
l TICKETS for tomorrow night’s Paddy Power County Antrim Shield final remain available for purchase from the Social Club at Solitude and The Oval Superstore as well as a host of outlets which can be found at www.glentoran.com.