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Monday monthly: February

With just a day until Cliftonville’s latest pre-season friendly of the 2021/22 campaign, continues a weekly mini-series reflecting on the good, the bad and the in-betweens of last term.

Every Monday between now and the new Danske Bank Premiership programme kicking off, we’re taking a chronological look back on a month from 2020/21 – with an encouraging February in the spotlight today.

A raft of arrivals in the closing days and hours of the Transfer Window meant that it was an unfamiliar-looking Reds side which reported for duty on a blustery night in Coleraine, but there was no lack of cohesion between the players as the visitors took an early lead through Rory Hale’s inch-perfect finish.

Though the Bannsiders would turn things around with two quickfire efforts before the half-time break, Cliftonville’s endeavours were rewarded with a dramatic late point when substitute Daire O’Connor hesitated on a defensive error to supply the cross from which Paul O’Neill bundled home on his debut.

That strike took to five the number of consecutive Reds matches which had carried a last-gasp goal since the turn of the year and, unfortunately for Paddy McLaughlin’s men, the sequence would continue a few days later when Jamie McDonagh – last week unveiled as a Cliftonville player – rocketed home an outrageous winner to earn Glentoran victory at The Oval.

With the fixtures coming thick and fast amid a backlog caused by a combination of the season’s late start and Covid-19 delays, the Reds were quickly back in midweek action and, having taken control of a potentially tricky home date with Warrenpoint Town courtesy of finishes from Ryan Curran and O’Neill, Curran would net again in injury-time to maintain that curious streak of last-minute goals.

The sequence wasn’t finished there, though, because Portadown would rescue an 89th minute draw when Cliftonville visited Shamrock Park the following weekend.

A game that had been threatened by adverse weather conditions eventually kicked off some two-and-a-half hours later than originally scheduled and McLaughlin’s men looked to be in course for back-to-back wins courtesy of Hale’s emphatic finish, only for Adam McCallum to level from a corner just when the contest looked over and done with.

It was with a certain sense of trepidation, therefore, that the Reds approached the closing stages of their Solitude scrap with Larne seven days later.

Leading through Ronan Doherty’s first Premiership goal for the Club, Cliftonville and their watching-from-home fans had grown accustomed to taking absolutely nothing for granted as far as the scoreline was concerned while the clock ticked down, but they remained resolute in the face of Larne pressure to claim both a welcome clean sheet and all three points.

As the race for a top-six spot grew more and more congested, the Reds claimed another big win when fellow challengers Ballymena United arrived in north Belfast a few days later.

Though Shay McCartan had cancelled out Curran’s opener, O’Neill pounced in the latter stages to seal a 2-1 victory, with Cliftonville duly making it three-in-a-row when Curran struck the only goal of a game with Carrick Ranfers which the Reds dominated for long spells without being rewarded on the scoresheet.

February ended with supporters voting the in-form Curran their Sean Graham Player of the Month as Cliftonville closed in on another date with Ballymena to kick March off…

February 2021
Coleraine 2-2 Cliftonville
Hale, O’Neill

Glentoran 1-0 Cliftonville

Cliftonville 3-0 Warrenpoint Town
R Curran [2], O’Neill

Portadown 1-1 Cliftonville

Cliftonville 1-0 Larne

Cliftonville 2-1 Ballymena United
R Curran, O’Neill

Carrick Rangers 0-1 Cliftonville
R Curran