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Monday Monthly: February

As the countdown to the new Irish League term continues, produces the seventh 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 February’s action taking centre stage today.

Though January had yielded County Antrim Shield success, Cliftonville’s form had been patchy at best and there was a sense that Rathfriland Rangers had the capacity to spring a shock when they visited Solitude on Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup sixth round day.

Though a Stephen Hughes strike drew the Amateur League minnows level in the aftermath of Jamie Harney’s opener, the Reds immediately hit back through Ryan Curran before Joe Gormley put the seal on what was ultimately a comfortable 3-1 success.

Getting back to winning ways in the Danske Bank Premiership was a particular priority for all at the Club and, though Conor McMenamin opened the scoring early on against Carrick Rangers, the dismissal of midfielder Liam Bagnall threatened to derail the team’s progress only for McMenamin’s second of the night to ease home nerves.

The Gers pulled one back through Michael Smith and looked odds-on to equalise courtesy of a Chris Rodgers header that produced another inspired reaction from goalkeeper Richard Brush, whose heroics were rewarded further when a McMenamin sealed his hat-trick and all three points from the penalty spot.

A disjointed performance in a 1-1 draw with Dungannon Swifts would follow – Gormley’s lob just about creeping over the line after Douglas Wilson had put the visitors in front – and, following a 4-1 friendly defeat of Drogheda United, a familiar story unfolded the following week when Gormley struck to earn a point against Ballymena United.

Despite disappointment with the outcome, a tactical tweak late in the contest provided reason for encouragement ahead of an Irish Cup quarter-final trip to Dungannon, where the same system produced a much improved performance in the rain, sleet and snow at Stangmore Park.

Ahead through Michael McCrudden’s first goal for the Club, the Reds were dealt the double blow of seeing a McMenamin penalty saved just minutes before being pegged back by a smart finish from Daniel Hughes – whose brother had been on target for Rathfriland in the previous round.

The team would, however, rally once more and an incisive breakaway saw Gormley unselfishly tee up Ryan Curran for the finish that sealed progress.

February ended with supporters nominating Gormley their Sean Graham Player of the Month as the Reds geared up for their first outing in March and what would prove to be the final North Belfast Derby of the season.

Cliftonville 3-1 Rathfriland Rangers
Harney, R Curran, Gormley

Cliftonville 3-1 Carrick Rangers
McMenamin [3]

Cliftonville 1-1 Dungannon Swifts

Cliftonville 4-1 Drogheda United
McMenamin [2], McCurry [2]

Cliftonville 1-1 Ballymena United

Dungannon Swifts 1-2 Cliftonville
McCrudden, R Curran