Match winner Martin Donnelly believes the secret of Cliftonville’s WASP Solutions League Cup victory was the fact his team ‘held their nerve’ when it mattered.
When Ballymena United’s David Cushley smashed in a quick-fire double to cancel out Joe Gormley’s first half brace, it could have had disastrous consequences.
Instead, Tommy Breslin’s boys weathered the storm. They were rewarded when Donnelly lashed in a beauty nine minutes from time, which sparked scenes of sheer delight among the Red Army who were shoehorned into the Kop Stand at Windsor Park.
“We didn’t panic when they equalised and that was the catalyst of the victory,” beamed Donnelly. “I thought we were brilliant in the first half. Our pass and movement stuff was great. We were comfortable. We talked at half time and the gaffer told us to keep doing the same thing.
“But every time we seemed to have a chance in the second half, we missed it and they punished us at the other end.
“However, we didn’t panic. We got back to playing our football and were rewarded with the winner.
“This victory has to be up there with the best of our achievements over the past two or three years.”
Donnelly admitted the introduction of Cushley made had a dramatic impact on the game.
“He made a big difference,” added Donnelly. “They pushed forward a lot more. But I always felt we had enough to win the game, even went it went to 2-2.
“I tried to get the boys to settle down, get back to playing the way we know we can. Once we did that, the chances began to fall for us. I was thrilled to hit the winner.
“I think it was Marty Murray who whipped the ball in from wide right. The only way (Tony) Kane was going to head it was back out, so I thought I’d drop off him. Once it came to me, I just took a touch and hit it. Lucky enough it went in.”
The North Belfast man stressed the Reds first half performance was probably the best they’ve played this season.
“I thought we were back to our best in that first half, it was like the Cliftonville we know,” he beamed. “We limited Ballymena to very few chances. Jay (Donnelly) and Joe (Gormley) up top were different class.
“In the second half I thought we starved them of the ball to a certain degree. That’s when United came back into it.”