Ross Lavery's late winner puts Cliftonville one point behind Linfield in table
IT'S hard to beat beating the crosstown rivals in their own back yard.
Ross Lavery was the toast of the Cliftonville faithful on Saturday as his late winner at Windsor Park secured a crucial win for the Reds that leaves them just one point behind second placed Linfield in the table. And although the Reds are eight points off north Belfast rivals Crusaders at the top, there is a long way to go in this race and ample time to make up lost ground.
Gerard Lyttle’s men have only lost twice in their last 10 league outings - with one of those defeats being a crazy reversal when they lost 4-3 at Seaview after being three-nil in front with less than half-an-hour left.
Lyttle has the air of a man who knows he has a team well capable of mounting a title challenge.
“It was a brilliant win,” he said.
“You could see from [the moment] we entered the pitch - that the boys were tuned in. We asked - ‘rather than be boys, be men today. Stand up and be counted and win your battles and stick to what we’re going to do.’
“And I thought we played Linfield to a tee. We snuffed them out, we frustrated them and we silenced the crowd early doors and got the crowd on their back rather than ours. It was really pleasing to see that happen.”
Daniel Hughes opened the scoring for Cliftonville on 52 minutes and showed terrific composure to do so. When a long ball into the box was only half cleared to him inside the penalty area, the former Warrenpoint Town striker still had a lot to do, but expertly controlled the ball before lashing a volley past Roy Carroll.
Andrew Waterworth looked to have secured a draw when he booted home from close range with 11 minutes to go but Lavery pounced with just one minute remaining to knock home a rebound. Up next for the Reds is a home tie against Ballymena United.
Lyttle is hoping the momentum can continue and insists that terrific results like Saturday’s must be backed up: “There’s no point in us going to Windsor and putting on a big performance and beating the team that’s been in form and beating a team that hasn’t been beaten at Windsor Park in a year, if we can’t match it with results the following week and the week after,” he said.
“You look back, and obviously you can’t do anything about it now, but you look back and you see the points that we’ve dropped – it frustrates you. Because we know what our team’s capable of on their day. They’re a match for anyone.”
Lyttle has had to contend with a fair amount of criticism this season - particularly after an inconsistent start to the campaign. He is undoubtedly well able for it, and praised his team for their current good run. He also hopes that lady luck will start to shine a touch more favourably on his troops than has been the case so far.
“There’s been a lot of critics out there. For some reason they want to see us fail more than they want to see us winning,” he said.
“I think the boys at the minute are answering them. During the week we had a poor defeat against Glenavon - the goals that we conceded weren’t good enough and we know that. But at the same time, we weren’t helped by fouls on the players before the goals, and we haven’t been getting those wee breaks as well.
“Saturday was the same. I thought for their goal - to give a free kick against us - it was never a free kick. And I’ve challenged the referee on it and he said it was the linesman that gave it. So those wee things could have obviously cost us and have been costing us.
“And on Saturday, I thought it was going to be another one. Lucky enough, wee Ross stepped up and got us that winner.”