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Monday Monthly: January

As the countdown to the new Irish League term continues, produces the sixth chapter of a weekly mini-series reflecting on the good, the bad and the in-betweens of last season.

Every Monday, we’re taking a chronological look back on a month from the 2019/20 campaign – with January’s action taking centre stage today.

Top of the Danske Bank Premiership thanks to superb form over the Christmas break, Cliftonville ensured a perfect festive season when Thomas Maguire’s first goal for the Club was enough to secure a New Year’s Day victory over Glenavon at Solitude.

The same player netted twice three days later when the Reds entertained Hanover in the Fifth Round of the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup.

After Maguire opened the scoring against the Mid-Ulster Football League side, Aaron Donnelly broke his own duck to double the hosts’ advantage, with conversions from Joe Gormley, Ronan Doherty and Ryan Curran making it 5-0 at the interval, after which Maguire notched Cliftonville’s sixth.

The team’s winning run came to a disappointing conclusion in front of the Sky Sports cameras, when Linfield emerged with from BT14 with a 2-1 win.

Trailing to an Andy Mitchell penalty, the Reds levelled thanks to a Joe Gormley equaliser in bizarre circumstances – referee Raymond Crangle having over-ruled an incorrect offside flag in the build-up – but were undone when Mark Stafford powered home a second-half winner.

The hangover from that setback seemed to carry into the following week’s trip to Carrick Rangers, whose deserved 1-0 win sparked serious concern among supporters who had previously been approaching the upcoming County Antrim Shield Final with Ballymena United in confident mood.

That change of conviction looked justified when Leroy Millar’s strike looked set to earn silverware for the Sky Blues, who were utterly stunned by the two-goal rescue act the Reds produced during seven minutes of injury-time at Windsor Park.

Having looked out for the count against a well-drilled but ultimately comfortable Ballymena backline, Cliftonville pressed forward in the seemingly forlorn hope of forcing Extra Time – but that’s exactly what they appeared to have done when Maguire pounced to bundle home the equaliser after goalkeeper Jordan Williamson had spilled Conor McMenamin’s low drive with just one minute left to play.

Even so, there was still somehow time for the Reds to complete an unforgettable turnaround when Maguire’s delivery into the area was half-cleared to the edge of the box, where fellow substitute Ryan Curran was on hand to coolly stroke into the bottom corner and spark scenes of manic jubilation in the North Stand.

Despite that success, Cliftonville were unable to arrest their losing streak in the Premiership when Coleraine inflicted a third straight defeat the following week to leave everyone at the Club reflecting with mixed emotions on a testing few weeks across all fronts.

January ended with supporters nominating Maguire their Sean Graham Player of the Month as the Reds counted down to an Irish Cup date with Rathfriland Rangers.

Cliftonville 1-0 Glenavon

Cliftonville 6-0 Hanover
Maguire [2], A Donnelly, Gormley, Doherty, R Curran

Cliftonville 1-2 Linfield

Carrick Rangers 1-0 Cliftonville

Ballymena United 1-2 Cliftonville
Maguire, R Curran

Coleraine 1-0 Cliftonville