Cliftonville have tightened their grip on what will be, a first league title in fourteen years, after an impressive 4-1 win over rivals Glentoran. The win was both welcome and timely after losing to Linfield 3-1 on New Years Day. Normal service was resumed, however, with an assured and confident second half display that swept Glentoran aside to move six points clear of Crusaders at the Danske Bank Premiership summit, with a game in hand over their North Belfast rivals.
It was a well contested first half, Glentoran showing their intent while they battled fiercely in midfield and orchestrated a few impressive counter-attacks. The game’s first couple of openings were to be provided by Cliftonville though they couldn’t find a way past Morris. The Red’s were made to pay for failing to take the initiative when the Glen’s took the lead through a good finish from Stephen Carson. Looking extremely impressive throughout the first half, Carson was on hand to sweep home past Conor Devlin who could do nothing about it.
Carson continued to pose a threat down the right-hand side for Glentoran as a commendable solo effort led to a 20-yard drive brushing the top of the woodwork. For the most part, it was a frustrating half for Cliftonville who struggled to implement their slick passing style which has provided the framework for their success so far this season. Gormley and Boyce, the prolific attacking partners leading the line, received little service throughout the opening 45 minutes despite plenty of possession from the home side. Cliftonville’s nerves were eased, however, when George McMullan pounced on a sloppy attempt of a clearance from the Glentoran scorer Carson to hammer home a low volley into the bottom corner. It was a finish of the highest quality from the hard-working full-back who provided his team with the boost they were very much in need of.
The home fans would have been expecting a flurry of goals from their team who have had no difficulty in finding the net this season, but in truth Glentoran were the more dangerous side in the first-half. The aforementioned flurry did arrive though and the Red’s executed it with a glowing sense of confidence and authority. Taking the match by the scruff of the neck after the break, the Red’s were remarkably superior to their opponents in a stark contrast to what had been an even match. McMullan grabbed his second of the night after a smart run into the box was unchecked and he was left unmarked to head the ball home to turn the game on its head. Seemingly on cruise control, Cliftonville were given a reminder of what Glentoran were capable of when Andy Waterworth struck the post for the visitors on the hour mark after a smart turn in the area. If his effort had found the net, the outcome may have been entirely different. Disappointingly for the travelling supporters, they ran out of creative juices and fell to their knees while Cliftonville ran riot to victory. Liam Boyce was put clean through and calmly rounded the keeper to slot the ball into an empty net to make it 3-1 and put the game to bed, his 22nd of the season in all competitions and 18th in the league. Cosgrove added a fourth to complete an impressive victory for Cliftonville who look every bit a team who can end their fourteen-year wait for a league title. Tommy Breslin would have been looking for a great deal of character in the face of a doggedly determined Glentoran side and their second-half display will have eased the tensions aroused in the first.
Looking comfortable at the top of the table, Cliftonville will now turn their attentions in the coming weeks towards the League Cup Final against Crusaders on 26th January. Although being a cup tie, the match could prove to be a significant indicator in the outcome for the title as either Clfitonville could carry their cup success momentum into their drive for the league or Crusaders could throw a spanner into the works by taking the cup and thus, galvanising their own claim for the league.