Darren Murphy admits he isn’t surprised by Cliftonville’s sluggish start to the season – and believes the champions’ tag is weighing heavily on them.
The Reds have yet to hit anywhere near the form they showed last term and dropped another two points at Stangmore Park on Saturday.
A Ciaran Caldwell strike rescued a draw against Dungannon Swifts which manager Tommy Breslin later admitted they were fortunate to secure.
But Dungannon boss Murphy felt Cliftonville’s indifferent start was predictable, insisting that it is always harder when a team is champions.
Murphy was part of the Linfield side which won the 2003/04 league, and then finished second to Glentoran the following season.
“They were always going to have a stuttering start as league champions because it is always harder to win it twice, back-to-back,” he said.
“You win it the first time and you go to every ground as the league champions, so all of a sudden it brings a tag and an extra pressure.
“At the end of the day they have quality through their squad.
“The big difference is that maybe other teams have improved slightly and got a bit of belief.
“The way the league has started, and the way some teams have started, has given other people belief that they can compete in these games.
“I hope it continues because the more teams you have challenging up around there the more entertaining it is for everyone else.”
Cliftonville boss Breslin said his side’s performance had been unacceptable.
“I think we were lucky to get a point and full credit to Dungannon,” he said.
“They have started the season well and continued that today. They looked sharper all over the park, were better in possession and gave us a very hard game.”
Breslin blamed mounting injury problems – Jamie McGovern was taken off on a stretcher in the first half on Saturday – as a big factor in his side’s dip in form.
“We’ve three or four players out from last week and, coupled with the loss of form of some of our key players, then we’re going to struggle,” he added.
“The goal that we gave away was very preventable, the same as last week, and it seems we’re being punished for every mistake.”