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Cliftonville 5 Ballymena United 0

Eddie Patterson allowed long-serving physiotherapist Freddie Jardine the opportunity to provide the pre-match talk before Cliftonville went into battle with Ballymena United on Saturday.

Reeling from three Premiership defeats in succession — the first such sequence for more than five years — and having rarely hit top gear all season, the Reds needed some words of wisdom to inspire a return to form.

Patterson had no hesitation in turning to Jardine, who was honoured by the club ahead of the game with the unveiling of a new Sports Therapy Suite in his name, and the 87-year-old certainly worked wonders.

“Freddie doesn’t really go seeking headlines or looking for attention and just keeps himself to himself so I wasn’t really surprised to hear him keep his talk short and sweet,” explained Patterson.

“He said he was delighted to see the new suite named in his honour and that the only thing that could make the day better was if they went out and stuck four past Ballymena — so needless to say, he’ll be doing the talks from now on.”

Cliftonville got off to a perfect start when Ronan Scannell opened the scoring on nine minutes, but they could easily have found themselves behind on at least one occasion in the previous 60 seconds.

First, Ballymena winger Eamonn Murray curled a peach of a strike towards the top corner and was thwarted only by an acrobatic save from Reds custodian John Connolly.

The subsequent corner delivery looked set for a direct place in the back of the net only for the alert Liam Fleming to head clear from beneath his own crossbar.

As Cliftonville broke, Fleming dashed forward and picked up possession from the lively Martin Jones before swinging over a cross which Scannell pounced upon to send a looping header over goalkeeper Ryan Brown.

The elder Scannell brother then took centre stage to atone for the misery of his previous two Solitude outings — a red card against Portadown and a missed penalty versus Glenavon washed away by a superb hat-trick to sink the Braidmen.

His first came on 19 minutes when he sent a firm header into the bottom corner following an excellent cross from Stephen Garrett.

He made it 3-0 with a dinked finish following George McMullan’s pass and the same duo combined to create number four just after the interval.

Peter Hutton’s late header ensured Jardine’s pre-match instruction wasn’t fully adhered to, but Patterson certainly wasn’t complaining afterwards.

“It’s a result and a performance which I feel has been coming for quite some time,” he added.

“Even when we were on that recent run of five wins in a row, I knew we weren’t playing as well as we could have done and obviously losing the three matches on the bounce was hard for us to take.

“At training during the week, though, we spoke about getting ourselves back to basics and I told the players not to be going into the game with a fear of getting beat.

“Rather, they should go out there with confidence in their own ability and hungry to put things right after what have been a difficult couple of weeks.

“Hopefully we can string another run together now, but we know that it will be very difficult because, as we see every single weekend, every team can beat anyone else in this League.

“We can now go and enjoy the friendly with Bolton but, trust me, we’re aware of the importance of the Distillery match next Saturday.”

Opposite number Roy Walker was understandably downbeat but, rather than blast his players, opted instead to lay down a challenge in the hope of sparking a reaction.

“Characters are formed over a long distance so it will be interesting to see how we react to this,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone emerged from that with any credit and it’s a match where, from the first minute, we just didn’t look ourselves and Cliftonville completely punished us for it.”

Belfast Telegraph