Gerard Lyttle was thrilled with Cliftonville’s response as his side stormed past Glenavon with a confident second-half display at Solitude.
Though the scoreline flatters the hosts, they gave the Lurgan Blues a lesson in taking their chances with Jason McGuinness, Ruairi Harkin and Davy McDaid all netting after the interval.
“We asked the boys to step it up at half-time and that’s what they did,” said Lyttle.
“In the first-half, the pace of the game suited Glenavon and we weren’t doing things quickly enough. There wasn’t much between the teams but they probably looked the more likely to make something happen.
“We wanted to take the game to them more and the players did that. The first goal made the difference and we kicked on after that.”
Though Solitude spirits had been relatively high on the back of a winning streak yielded through encouraging performances, consecutive losses to Glentoran and the Blues meant Cliftonville entered the contest hoping a week-long wobble didn’t develop into a more long-term concern at the hands of a Glenavon side that had enjoyed significantly differing fortunes.
Skippered by Paddy McCourt, the Lurgan Blues almost fell behind on eight minutes when a Hughes attempt struck the base of the post before the home striker saw penalty appeals waved away by referee Arnold Hunter, who flashed a yellow card for simulation when Hughes fell under pressure from Kris Lindsay.
Though the visitors carved out the better of the chances – Mark Sykes and Paddy McCourt denied by Peter Burke – it was Cliftonville who took the lead when McGuinness’ towering header screeched into the top corner just before the hour. Harkin’s long-range blast doubled the advantage and, when Lindsay and goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey got themselves in a twist, McDaid pounced to wrap things up.
Lyttle singled Jaimie McGovern out for praise as Cliftonville climbed into third.
The 27-year-old central defender had originally been named among the Reds’ substitutes but a pre-match injury to Chris Ramsey necessitated a last-minute shuffle in the hosts’ rearguard, with McGovern stepping in to produce an exemplary display alongside opening goalscorer Jason McGuinness.
“I thought Jaimie was outstanding,” said Lyttle.
“I feel so sorry for Chris Ramsey. He’s been out for a long time but has worked hard to get back to fitness but, just before the match, he’s gone up for a header and gone over on his ankle when he’s landed. He has absolutely no luck at the minute.
“For Jaimie to step up from the bench and play the way he did was fantastic. There was no moaning about being left out in the first place, his attitude was right and he was professional when called upon.”
Glenavon player-manager Gary Hamilton felt his side played well before pressing the self-destruct button.
“Up until the first goal, there wasn’t a lot in it and I thought we were probably the better side,” he said.
“Their goalkeeper has made great saves from Mark Sykes and Paddy McCourt and, just when we’re getting on top, we concede. The second one’s taken a deflection and the third is a big mix-up. There wasn’t really that much between the sides but the scoreline says different.”