On the day his side were mathematically excluded from the Danske Bank Premiership title race, Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin predicted an intriguing battle in the push for Europe.
The outgoing Champions overcame an uncertain start to hit Institute for five at Solitude thanks to strikes from Donnellys Martin and Jay either side of a Joe Gormley hat-trick and, with his side now third in the standings on goal difference above Portadown, Breslin believes the remaining weeks of the campaign will produce edge-of-seat drama by the bucketful.
“It’s a five team shoot-out for two places,” he said.
“With all the top teams facing eachother between now and the end of the season, there’s going to be something riding on every game. It was important we got this win today because Portadown come to Solitude next week and that’s a huge match for both clubs – but, then again, we’ll be saying that about every fixture from here on in.
“Today, we didn’t start well and credit to Institute because they have their style they like to play but the one thing they’re probably missing is a cutting edge.
“We scored with our first real chance and then, in the blink of an eye, it was two, three and four, so we took control pretty convincingly and it was a long way back for them.”
Martin Donnelly opened the scoring with a composed finish on 25 minutes before Gormley took centre-stage with a rapid-fire treble – crashing home an unstoppable effort from distance and converting from close range ahead of dispatching a penalty.
Jay Donnelly’s firm header made it five after the interval and, though satisfied with the win, Breslin felt his men could have pushed on further.
“We spoke about going out and winning the second-half and we set the players targets which we weren’t able to achieve,” he added.
“In truth though, we would obviously have taken 5-1 before the match but it’s important we build on this in the weeks ahead because every game is going to be crucial.”
Opposite number Paul Kee – whose side reduced the arrears thanks to Dean Curry’s 79th minute header – was less than impressed with the performance of his basement battlers, who remain without a Premiership success since mid-October.
“We were let down by individuals today,” he said.
“The goals we gave away were shocking and players didn’t do jobs that were asked of them.
“We played with fear and had no leadership. I’ll take the hit because it’s me who puts the team on the pitch but there will be changes next week.”