With less than a fortnight until Cliftonville are involved in Europa League Preliminary Round action, cliftonvillefc.net continues a weekly mini-series reflecting on the good, the bad and the in-betweens of the 2018/19 season.
Every Monday, we’re taking a chronological look back on a new month from the campaign – with a hugely significant December taking centre stage today.
Just a couple of weeks after being dispatched from the League Cup by Dungannon Swifts, the Reds welcomed Kris Lindsay’s side back to Solitude for a Danske Bank Premiership encounter that got off to a poor start courtesy of a Jamie Harney own goal before Rory Donnelly, Chris Curran and Joe Gormley struck to put the hosts 3-1 up before half-time.
After the interval, Donnelly and Gormley completed personal doubles to wrap up a convincing 5-1 success just a week ahead of another high-scoring encounter in north Belfast.
This time, Glenavon were the visitors and, again, Donnelly displayed his shooting boots to put the Reds in front with just five minutes on the clock.
The Lurgan Blues would, however, turn the tie on its head with goals either side of half-time before Stephen Garrett, Donnelly and Conor McDonald netted to earn full points in a dramatic 4-2 victory.
That winning streak would continue when Cliftonville travelled to a rain-lashed Bangor Fuels Arena where, despite Joe Gormley’s early penalty miss, the Reds soon took full control thanks to Gormley atoning for his spot-kick failure before Donnelly doubled the advantage with just 10 minutes on the clock.
Donnelly’s apparent inability to stop scoring extended to the other end of the park and an eye-catching own goal that offered Ards a route back into the contest only for Levi Ives to settle the issue when he made it 3-1.
In spite of their fine form, Cliftonville were about to see things unravel as the festive season approached – and it all began in an incredible encounter with Institute.
Trailing early on at Brandywell Stadium, the Reds levelled – inevitably – through Donnelly only for Stute to race into a 3-1 lead before half-time.
Cliftonville’s response after the turnaround was simply stunning; Donnelly and Gormley scoring to make it 3-3 just seven minutes after the re-start before arguably the most pivotal 60 seconds of the Club’s entire season.
Presented with the chance to take the lead from the penalty spot, Donnelly saw his tame effort saved and, when Institute broke downfield, they were awarded a spot-kick of their own when goalkeeper Brian Neeson committed a foul that earned him a straight red card and saw defender Harney take over between the posts.
After converting the kick, Stute would go on to pull 6-3 in front before Donnelly pulled one back with a smart strike to seal his hat-trick on a day littered with what ifs. Had he netted his penalty, the Reds would surely have gone on to win the tie and possibly also avoid the shocking plummet in form that would just a few weeks later see Institute boss Paddy McLaughlin swap his native north-west for north Belfast. Just how crucial would that madcap minute prove?
What was certain, however, was that Cliftonville seriously nosedived and, after being thumped 5-1 by derby rivals Crusaders, saw 2018 out with a limp display as Linfield eased to full points with a 2-0 win at Solitude.
December ended with supporters unsurprisingly nominating Donnelly their Sean Graham Player of the Month as the Reds headed into a New Year’s Day trip to Coleraine before a vital Irish Cup showdown with Dungannon…
Cliftonville 5-1 Dungannon Swifts
R Donnelly , C Curran, Gormley 
Cliftonville 4-2 Glenavon
R Donnelly , Garrett, McDonald
Ards 1-3 Cliftonville
Gormley, R Donnelly, Ives
Institute 6-4 Cliftonville
R Donnelly , Gormley
Cliftonville 1-5 Crusaders
Cliftonville 0-2 Linfield