David Jeffrey was content with his side’s performance despite Linfield’s lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership being cut to two points with defeat to Cliftonville on Saturday.
A fiery affair was settled when Marc Smyth stabbed home from close range on 64 minutes before Blues midfielder Robert Garrett was dismissed for a high challenge on the goalscorer.
But Jeffrey was encouraged by the improvement in his side’s display in comparison to previous visits to Solitude.
“I don’t think we got what we deserved today,” he insisted.
“The last time we were here, we were totally dominated in every area of the pitch. We were outfought, outplayed and outclassed and I challenged the players to go out and give a much better account of themselves.
“I was very pleased with my players and with their performance. There are fine margins in football and we just finished on the wrong side of it today.
“We talked about not giving away silly free-kicks and then we gave one away out on the left. We didn’t pick up properly and that led to the goal.
“It was a hard fought game with plenty of challenges but is disappointing to come away from it with nothing.
“I thought we dominated for long spells of the game and Jonny Tuffey didn’t really have many saves to make.
“It was two errors on our part which led to the goal but I thought we did tremendously well throughout the rest of the game.”
The second period started and finished with referee Arnold Hunter turning down penalty appeals from the visitors – first when Ronan Scannell appeared to handle after losing balance in the process of chesting the ball back to his keeper and then, deep into injury-time, when substitute Mark McAllister took a tumble under a challenge from George McMullan.
Jeffrey admitted the latter call would have been a harsh award, but added: “I do not know how a penalty was not given when Ronan Scannell controlled the ball with his hand inside the box.
“It is very clear and I have no doubt that it was a stonewall penalty.”
Opposite number Tommy Breslin was understandably pleased not just with the outcome, but with the completion of a successful week that has seen his side land the WASP Solutions League Cup and move to within touching distance of Linfield at the table’s summit.
“We needed a win today and it was vital that we got it,” he said.
“Drawing would not have been the end of the world and a defeat wouldn’t have taken us out of things completely but we knew a win was important and it narrows the gap at the top to just two points.
“Last week we won a cup final and today we beat the league leaders so there is some momentum with us. I think there is more to come from us though.
“Had we shown a bit more composure, especially when they went down to ten men, we might have made it a bit easier for ourselves.
“We know how to win games and how to grind out results. It is not the flowing football from last year but teams are not letting us play.”
On the Blues’ penalty appeals, Breslin reflected: “Ronan went to control the ball and it hit his hand but I think it would have been very harsh.
“There was a lot at stake for both sides and I think you seen that in some of the performances. I thought our character was outstanding and we battled for every ball.
“I didn’t think we were as sharp as we were last Saturday against Crusaders but we have come through another big challenge.”