Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin admitted his team were forced to ‘win ugly’ as they close in their first Premiership title for 15 years.
Battling Donegal Celtic threatened to end a marvellous 10-game winning sequence at soggy Solitude, until substitute Ciaran Caldwell struck a priceless winner with only six minutes remaining.
Little Ryan Deans silenced the home fans by plundering a second half equaliser after Stephen Garrett had shot the Reds into the lead – the climax to a superb solo dash.
With the ‘Red Army’ becoming increasingly restless as the clock ticked down, Caldwell eased the tension by stooping to head home a Ronan Scannell cross.
“We made hard work of it,” said Breslin.
“We knew it would be a battle – we’ve struggled all season against the formation that Celtic play.
“They are very determined and resolute.
“Our front two (Gormley and Boyce) haven’t really performed against them this year.
“In saying that, very few of our boys would have picked up any ‘pass marks’ today.
“We had to grind out a result. We didn’t start playing until Celtic equalised. I asked the lads why didn’t we have that urgency throughout the game?
“I’m just relieved to get the three points. It seemed to me we had a little fear of losing. We’ll have a chat about that during the week.
“They should be enjoying their football, especially in the current position we are in.
“To be fair, we played good stuff throughout the campaign and it’s nice to win with a certain degree of style, but there are going to be games that you have to grind out a result – and this was one of them.
“We have a mentality and a determination to win games. It’s another one chalked off – we are now down to eight. I’m disappointed with the performance, but delighted with the outcome.”
The result means the Reds have claimed a European place, no matter what happens in the coming weeks.
“That will keep the chairman happy,” quipped Breslin.
“But personally, I would like to finish off the campaign with a bit of style – produce the football that we have been playing all season.”
Celtic boss Pat McAllister insisted his team can take a great deal of credit.
“We are unbelievably disappointed,” he said.
“We came here with nine players missing, but we still produced a great display.
“When a team is 50 points ahead of you, there is no point in trying to match them – you try to frustrate them and that’s what we did.
“Other teams have come here and ended up with a heavy defeat. Our game plan worked really well. It was two individual mistakes that cost us the match.
“We are going in the right direction in terms of staying in this league.
“I told the boys there is no point feeling sorry for themselves – every game is now a cup final. We have massive seven or eight weeks ahead of us.
“We will be playing the teams around us – Distillery, Glenavon and Dungannon – when the split takes place. Then is the time to stand up and be counted.”