With pre-season action set to commence in this evening’s home friendly with Derry City, cliftonvillefc.net continues a weekly mini-series reflecting on the good, the bad and the in-betweens of the 2017/18 campaign.
Every Monday, we’re taking a chronological look back on a new month from Barry Gray’s first year at the helm – with a stop-start January falling under our spotlight today.
Having ended 2017 in something of a slump, the Reds’ bid to start the New Year on a positive note was hampered by the weather. Despite enjoying the better of the play against Ballymena United at Solitude, it was clear that Storm Eleanor was gaining the upper hand on both teams, forcing referee Evan Boyce to abandon the contest at half-time, offering relieved respite to players, supporters and officials alike.
All of which meant that Cliftonville’s first full outing of 2018 came when Warrenpoint Town visited for a Tennent’s Irish Cup Fifth Round clash that turned into something of a classic.
Trailing to an early Martin Murray strike, the Reds levelled through Jamie Harney just before half-time and looked to have taken full control of proceedings when Ross Lavery made it 2-1 shortly after the turnaround. However, Jaimie McGovern’s dismissal handed Point the initiative and they made their numerical advantage count when Murray found the bottom corner to force Extra Time.
Before the 90 minutes were up, however, visiting player-boss Matthew Tipton – who had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes – collected two quickfire bookings to even up the numbers and, buoyed by Town’s sudden loss of momentum, Cliftonville set about exerting greater authority, with Harney almost inexplicably going on to complete a hat-trick before a nervy finale saw Warrenpoint pull the score back to 4-3.
There was further late drama seven days later when, having led Glenavon for so long thanks to a Joe Gormley finish, the Reds were forced to settle for a point when Sammy Clingan pounced for an injury-time leveller at Mourneview Park ahead of a midweek League Cup Semi Final date becoming the latest tie with Ballymena to fall foul of the elements.
Cliftonville’s first win of the year came when Dungannon Swifts were defeated 3-0 at Solitude ahead of a madcap evening in Fermanagh, where the Reds found themselves trailing 2-0 to Ballinamallard United inside 21 minutes.
After reducing the arrears through Jay Donnelly, the visitors found themselves 4-1 down only for Lavery and Gormley to narrow the margin to a single goal. When the Mallards extended their lead to 5-3, all home seemed lost until Gormley’s second of the night set up a hectic finish which saw Jude Winchester go within inches of making it 5-5 in injury-time, just seconds before United scored a sixth from the halfway line.
Three days later, a more sensible occasion prevailed when the Sky Sports cameras visited Solitude as, for the second time in a month, Cliftonville and Glenavon played out a 1-1 draw; Donnelly earning the hosts a point at the end of a month that saw Reds fans nominate Lavery – who had scored against Warrenpoint, Dungannon and Ballinamallard – as January’s top player.
Cliftonville A-A Ballymena United
Cliftonville 4-3 Warrenpoint Town
Harney , Lavery
Glenavon 1-1 Cliftonville
Cliftonville 3-0 Dungannon Swifts
Lavery, J Donnelly, OG
Ballinamallard United 6-4 Cliftonville
J Donnelly, Lavery, Gormley 2
Cliftonville 1-1 Glenavon