Free-scoring Stute must tighten up: McLaughlin
Institute 6 Cliftonville 4
His Institute side may have soared to a rip-roaring 6-4 victory over Cliftonville - but boss Paddy McLaughlin still wasn't a happy man.
Michael McCrudden's brace and Joe McCready's confident finish gave the hosts what looked like a commanding 3-1 lead at the interval but Stute almost contrived to throw everything away during a madcap second-half that started with the Reds hitting back to level at 3-3 courtesy of headers from Rory Donnelly - who had earlier equalised to make it 1-1 - and Joe Gormley.
Goalkeeper Martin Gallagher's foul on Donnelly saw Cliftonville handed a golden opportunity to forge ahead from the penalty spot only for the striker's weak strike to be easily saved by the Institute stopper.
Opposite number Brian Neeson wasn't quite so fortunate because, minutes later, his foul on Ronan Doherty earned Institute a penalty of their own.
The red card flashed at Neeson presented Cliftonville with further issues because, with Richard Brush sidelined with serious illness and youngster Declan Dunne on loan at Portadown, they had no substitute keeper on the bench and had to turn to defender Jamie Harney, who was given no chance by McCrudden's penalty and was left just as exposed as McCready and McCrudden extended their tallies to put their side 6-3 ahead.
Donnelly would then go on to complete his hat-trick and put the scoring seal on a game that seemed to have absolutely everything - not that McLaughlin was lapping it up.
"It's an entertaining game for the people in the stands and I'm sure they enjoyed it, but for a manager it's hard at times," admitted the Stute boss.
"You have nerves for a lot of the game and you shouldn't. We have to use our experience and our game management a lot better because we made that a game right until the end when it shouldn't have been.
"We got the three points and that's the most important thing. We won the match, we scored some great goals, but we know ourselves that we need to be better defensively."
Despite frustrations at the back, McLaughlin was full of praise for strike duo McCrudden and McCready.
"The two of them have been top drawer in the last month of football - they've been as good as anybody in the division," he stated.
"Michael has been top drawer all season and Joe's now joined him in that category. His performances in the last few weeks have been brilliant for us and, if they keep playing as well as that, they'll always score goals no matter who the opposition is."
Opposite number Barry Gray - who yesterday completed the signing of former Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Clyde centre-half Joe Gorman - was likewise unimpressed by his side's defending but also lamented the decision to send Neeson off.
"The feedback from the referee is that the challenge was reckless and high," explained Gray, who does not have a recognised goalkeeper available for the Boxing Day showdown with Crusaders at Solitude.
"On review of the footage, I think that interpretation is wrong. His feet aren't high, it's not two-footed and, yes, it's a foul and a penalty but it should have been a yellow card.
"It's a big game-changer and one that's tough to take because if they score the penalty and we go 4-3 down, I'm still confident that with 11 men we can hit back and win the game. When you're down to 10 men, and especially when it's your keeper that's been sent off, it's a different challenge completely.
"It's a penalty but we should be facing it with our keeper in nets and 11 players on the pitch."
INSTITUTE: Gallagher, D Curry, Scoltock, McLaughlin, Wilson, A Harkin, Morrow (S Curry, 85 mins), Doherty, Dunne (Brown, 46 mins), McCrudden, McCready (Moorehead, 88 mins). Unused subs: McIntyre, N Harkin, McCallion, Henderson.
Cliftonville: Neeson, Bagnall, Breen, Harney, Ives, Garrett, C Curran, McDonald, R Curran (McNulty, 73 mins), R Donnelly, Gormley. Unused subs: Harkin, McConnell, Maguire, McMenamin, Casey.
Referee: Lee Tavinder (Dungannon)
Man of the match: Michael McCrudden
Match rating: 10/10