With just over three weeks having passed since Cliftonville brought the curtain down on the 2017/18 season and as this month’s Europa League First Qualifying Round draw edges ever closer, cliftonvillefc.net continues a weekly mini-series reflecting on the good, the bad and the in-betweens of the campaign just finished.
Every Monday, we’re taking a chronological look back on a new month from Barry Gray’s first year at the helm – with a frustrating and inconsistent September falling under our spotlight today.
Having fallen to a lacklustre 1-0 defeat to Ballymena United at The Showgrounds, goals from Garry Breen and Joe Gormley earned a welcome 2-1 win over Dungannon Swifts the following week.
Unfortunately, as was par for the course during the early stages of the campaign, the Reds failed to back hat success up when they travelled to Mourneview Park seven days later; Gormley netting a consolation in what was a 3-1 hammering by Glenavon.
Every upturn in fortunes has to start somewhere and, from Cliftonville’s perspective, a low-key County Antrim Shield First Round tie proved the unlikely platform from which the team set off on a seven-game winning streak.
After putting six without reply past Knockbreda, Gray’s men battled from behind to edge past Carrick Rangers courtesy of two second-half strikes from Gormley.
A 3-1 friendly win over the Northern Ireland Junior International XI, when Donnelly brothers Rory and Jay found the net ahead of an own goal from former Cliftonville defender Ryan Arthur, helped maintain the momentum ahead of Linfield’s visit to Solitude.
Sadly, and despite a positive performance, it looked as though that improvement in results was set to be undone when the Blues raced into a two-goal lead that few in the ground could argue they merited.
Chris Curran gave the Reds hope with a well-taken strike 11 minutes from time and home fans almost lifted the roof off when Jay Donnelly netted the equaliser shortly afterwards. With the pendulum having swung their way, the hosts poured forward as the clock ticked down and, having gone agonisingly close to a dramatic winner from Curran, were rewarded when Garry Breen’s bullet header capped a remarkable turnaround deep into injury-time.
That goal put the seal on an impressive few weeks from Breen, who was shortly afterwards voted September’s Sean Graham Player of the Month by the fans as Cliftonville bade to maintain their fine form going into October.
Ballymena United 1-0 Cliftonville
Cliftonville 2-1 Dungannon Swifts
Glenavon 3-1 Cliftonville
Cliftonville 6-0 Knockbreda
J Donnelly , R Donnelly, Lavery, Caldwell
Carrick Rangers 1-2 Cliftonville
Cliftonville 3-1 NI Junior XI
R Donnelly, J Donnelly, OG
Cliftonville 3-2 Linfield
Curran, J Donnelly, Breen