Comment: Three reasons Coleraine's victory at Cliftonville had a landmark feeling
Coleraine's victory at Cliftonville was just the latest in a run of three-point returns. But after what had been a trying week, there was a little bit of a landmark feel about it.
Coming to terms with the loss of Brad Lyons and Eoin Bradley to reasonably long-term injury woes, questions were asked about how the league leaders would cope. Ending the Reds' run of six straight defeats with a clinical and defensively stout performance wasn't a bad way to answer the doubters.
The fans reacted with a long, loud reception at the final whistle. It was just what the team needed after a week of disappointing news from the club doctor and their League Cup exit.
So what can we take from the 2-1 victory?
1. Coleraine's squad just might be deep enough to see them through injury woes
This was the big question being posed of Coleraine as injury worries mount. The Bannsiders were already coping without long-term absentees Lyndon Kane and James McLaughlin but add to that Eoin Bradley and Brad Lyons and it's a mounting list that would impact any club in the division. So how will the league leaders cope?
Saturday's showing will have given hope and encouragement to the vociferous travelling support. Josh Carson tucked into central midfield to compensate for Lyons' loss and Joe McCready continued to deputise for Bradley. Carson was effective in the centre and Ian Parkhill is tireless on the wing. Lyons' injury will no doubt impact Coleraine, such is his quality, but it's not beyond the remaining midfielders, backed up by Gareth McConaghie and Scott Whiteside, to cope until his return.
Then up top, McCready won a series of flick-ons, linking with McGonigle and showing he might well use Bradley's injury to stake his claim for an increased role even once Skinner returns. Watch this space - Saturday's winner won't be the last you hear of the former Institute striker.
2. Traynor is settling in and stepping up
Coleraine have had their fair share of star players during what has been an outstanding run to begin the Premiership campaign. Harkin, Lyons, Bradley McGonigle, O'Donnell, McAuley. The other players have fitted in round the stars to aid them in their quest (even if they won't admit it) to lift the Gibson Cup. But now with Bradley and Lyons missing, others need to step into leading roles.
On Saturday, left-back Aaron Traynor did that with an outstanding performance. Crunching tackles, accurate passes, surges forward - the full-back showed he can contribute up and down the length of that left-flank. His work ethic too was impressive and was summed up in the dying minutes as Cliftonville looked to work a shot from the edge of the area, it was Traynor who scampered across to make sure the shooter was knocked off his stride in time to screw it wide.
On this performance, Traynor looks at home in a team at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.
3. Class is permanent for the defensive Berbatov
With goal-scorer David Ogilby picking up a yellow card during the first-half, 40 year-old Steven Douglas was called in at half-time to take his place in what turned out to be a backs-to-the-wall 42 minute period.
And his ability was every bit as evident as ever as the centre-half proved a focal point of the dogged Coleraine performance. Winning headers, making clearances and partnering with the ever-impressed Stephen O'Donnell to hold onto a second-half clean sheet - Douglas did everything that was asked of him.
His performance was summed up by a deft first-touch on a high ball coming down on the defensive line. Seeing he was in a little bit of space, he plucked the ball out of the air with the outside of his boot with a first-touch Dimitar Berbatov would have been proud of before driving the ball clear for the umpteenth time.
Depth? As a back-up centre-half, Dougie will do just fine for title challenging Coleraine on this performance. A real leader - and if the Bannsiders keep up this run, they'll need as many of those as they can get.
Belfast Telegraph Digital