Cliftonville continue unbeaten run with victory over Ballymena

Cliftonvilles' James Knowles scored his first goal this season.
Cliftonvilles' James Knowles scored his first goal this season.

Gerard Lyttle had his fears allayed as Cliftonville returned to Danske Bank Premiership action with victory over Ballymena United on Saturday.

Unbeaten in their 10 previous league games with Lyttle at the helm, the Reds found themselves out of action for a fortnight when last week’s scheduled clash with Carrick Rangers fell victim to the weather – and left their manager concerned about the knock-on effects.

“I had been fearful that we might lose a bit of momentum with that game being off,” said Lyttle.

“We’d been on a good run and when you’re winning, you can’t wait for the next game so I was concerned that could upset us but you never know, maybe the break has done us good and allowed us to recharge the batteries just before we head into the Christmas period.”

The Reds started like a house on fire at the weekend with Chris Curran’s fifth minute chip breaking the deadlock before two Davy McDaid penalties seemed to have them cruising.

United hit back, though, and a Willie Faulkner rocket on 25 minutes halted the one-way traffic ahead of Gary Thompson bringing the visitors to within touching distance with half an hour left to play.

Cliftonville would seal the points when James Knowles – introduced just seconds before Curran’s opener after Jude Winchester was forced off with injury – registered his first goal of the season, much to Lyttle’s relief.

“I suppose so long as you’re scoring goals, winning games and picking up points, that’s all that really matters but there’s a big part of me that always feels you can do things better,” he added.

“You have to give Ballymena credit because they didn’t throw the towel in and our response to having our lead cut to one goal was good. The players didn’t sit back and defend what they had, they wanted to add to it and make sure we sealed the points.”

so there’s another big positive we can take.

“It would probably be nit-picking to be overly critical, but that’s the way I am. I’ll always aim for perfection.”

Opposite number Glenn Ferguson cut a frustrated figure as he reflected on his team’s disastrous start and did not want to hide behind the excuse of tired limbs caused by Ballymena’s midweek exertions against Larne in the County Antrim Shield.

“Some of the boys might have been feeling it but I’ve always felt sheer adrenalin can get you through at times,” he said.

“Tiredness is often felt more in the mind than in the legs but when you’re 3-0 down away to Cliftonville so early on, you’re left wondering where that energy’s going to come from.

“We did well to get it back to 3-2 and had chances to equalise but it’s the start that’s killed us. We spoke before the match about being in their faces and not giving them time to play football but it didn’t happen and we gave ourselves a mountain to climb.”