Cliftonville’s six-point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership was restored with a convincing Solitude victory over a lacklustre Glentoran on Monday night.
Stephen Carson had put the visitors ahead on 10 minutes but the Reds’ response was magnificent – with George McMullan netting a brace before conversions from Liam Boyce and Tomas Cosgrove wrapped things up on a rain-lashed North Belfast evening.
As if clashes between Cliftonville and Glentoran don’t already carry enough intrigue, last night’s showdown came on the back of a weekend that had seen questions posed about both sides’ mental strength.
And, while it was naturally wondered how the Reds would react to seeing both Linfield and Crusaders steal something of a march with their respective victories over Coleraine and Glenavon, it shouldn’t have been forgotten that the Glens also had plenty riding on events over the previous 48 hours.
Both sides certainly had their chances in the opening exchanges with Cliftonville going close through Martin Donnelly - whose close-range strike appeared to hit the hand of Glens skipper Sean Ward – and then Ryan Catney before Stephen Carson showed them how it should be done at the other end.
Collecting possession 12 yards out after a jinking right-wing dash from Andrew Waterworth, Carson made no mistake with a thundering finish that gave Conor Devlin no chance.
Injuries to Calum Birney and Richard Clarke upset the Glens’ rhythm somewhat but they almost went two up when Carson’s fizzing 30th minute strike whistled just over the bar while, soon later, Liam Boyce went close to finding the net with an attempted lob over Elliott Morris.
The Reds did pull level on 43 minutes, though, when Carson miskicked an attempted clearance and McMullan didn’t pass up the opportunity to exact maximum punishment with a smart left-footed half-volley into the far corner.
And the flame-haired home skipper was celebrating again early in the second period when he got on the end of a Donnelly free-kick to nod his side in front for the first time.
Joe Gormley then went close to extending Cliftonville’s lead further and, though Waterworth struck the upright on 59 minutes, Glentoran’s display had grown steadily worse the longer the evening progressed with a third home goal often bordering on the inevitable.
It should have come through Stephen Garrett but his 75th minute strike was incorrectly ruled out for offside before Liam Boyce made absolutely sure of things by rounding Morris after an horrific backpass and slip from Glens defender Jay Magee.
Boyce departed the scene soon later but his replacement wasn’t long in getting in on the goalscoring act for himself - young defender Tomas Cosgrove slamming home from a Donnelly pass to register his first ever strike for the club and put the seal on another impressive success for Breslin’s boys.
CLIFTONVILLE: Devlin, McGovern, R Scannell, Johnston, McMullan (Seydak 87), Garrett, Donnelly, Smyth, Catney, Gormley (O’Carroll 67), Boyce (Cosgrove 87).
Subs not used: Lynch, O’Kane.
GLENTORAN: Morris, Ward, Hill, Magee, Birney (McAlorum 12), M Clarke, Callacher, Kane, Waterworth, R Clarke (McGuigan 27), Carson (McComb 73).
Subs not used: O’Hanlon, Bradley.
Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Belfast)