CLIFTONVILLE boss Tommy Breslin has predicted one of the closest title races in years this season.
The Reds returned to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table with Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Linfield at Windsor Park.
Goals from Liam Boyce and George McMullan cancelled Mark McAllister’s opener for the Blues.
It was a tale of contrasting emotions afterwards as both managers dissected an entertaining clash at the international stadium.
For Breslin there was the joy of watching his side return to the Premiership summit, while Linfield boss David Jeffrey was nursing successive home defeats.
Despite the champions’ sluggish start – they have lost three of their seven fixtures – Breslin believes the team that finishes above Linfield will lift the Gibson Cup.
“It is still early days, but hopefully it is a tight league this season,” Breslin said.
“Regardless of who wins it it would be nice if it wasn’t decided until the last week or so.
“It is not good for the league if one team runs away with it, winning by 15 or 20 points.
“Glentoran, Crusaders, Glenavon, Ballymena, Ballinamallard – teams we have played this season – have all been good.
“Linfield will be there too. I expect any team that finishes above them will be champions – make no mistake about that.”
Reflecting on his side’s return to the summit, Breslin added: “It is nice that we are top of the league again.
“It is typical of the league in that it hasn’t settled down. It is ebbing and flowing, but it is nice to be back on top after what happened last week.”
All three goals arrived in a pulsating second half.
McAllister broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute when he headed home Niall Quinn’s corner from eight yards.
The Blues were ahead for barely two minutes when Cliftonville restored parity.
A long punt by Conor Devlin caught Linfield’s defence napping, and Boyce was allowed to nip in front of Alan Blayney and head the ball over the advancing keeper.
Linfield were left in shock, and five minutes later their misery was compounded with Cliftonville bagging their winner.
More hesitant defending allowed Barry Holland a free run to the bye-line, and the midfielder was able to cross for skipper McMullan to poke home from close range.
Cliftonville had chances to extend their lead – notably through a McMullan header which missed the target and a Joe Gormley rasper which forced a superb save from Blayney.
At the other end Albert Watson and William Murphy had quick-fire efforts in injury time which never threatened Devlin’s goal.
“How we gave it away today is beyond comprehension. Two simple mistakes cost us three points,” Blues boss Jeffrey said.
“It was a classic case of shooting ourselves on the foot.
“I counted Cliftonville had three chances on goal. One of them was a fantastic save by Alan Blayney. The other two they didn’t have to work too hard for their goals.”
Reflecting on his side’s poor start to the season, Jeffrey said: “In this day and age everyone wants to be an alarmist.
“But the league table doesn’t tell lies. We are where we are at the moment because up until now we haven’t played well enough, consistently enough.
“There have been occasions where we haven’t got what we deserved, but there is a sign on the back of our door which says ‘no excuses’.
“We played well today, but there is no point doing that without an end product.
“We got the goal in the second half and I thought out play deserved that.
“Then the oldest mistake in the game, in the big hefty hoof from the back, catches us out.”