AFTER returning to winning ways in the league on Tuesday evening, Cliftonville will be hoping to end January with back-to-back wins when they host Ballymena United on Saturday (3pm kick-off).

Having taken a 2-0 lead against Glenavon, Paddy McLaughlin’s side survived a late scare when Matt Fitzpatrick headed home ahead of three added minutes.

However, Ronan Hale quickly restored the two-goal advantage and after slipping up from a two-goal margin in their previous two outings.

The Solitude side held on and remain top of the table ahead of the Sky Blues’ visit.
Assistant manager Declan O’Hara insists his side is aware of the threat that Ballymena pose and is anticipating another tough test. 

“We know what to expect,” he insists.

“Our home record at Solitude is frightening to be quite honest, but we take no game easy.

“We’ll go into the game the way we do for any game: we’ll prepare properly, we’ll be back in watch the videos and do our homework on Ballymena and just get ready for Saturday afternoon at 3pm. No doubt our boys will be ready for another tough test.”

Colin Coates capped his return from injury with a goal and a solid performance on Tuesday evening and O’Hara believes his presence was a huge lift to those around him.

“We put Coatsey in tonight and he was outstanding for someone of 37 years old,” O’Hara believes.

“He’s been excellent, and he gives the whole squad a lift. He’s just like a father figure in the team, and he was excellent tonight. That makes other players around him lift their game.

“It was a tough place to come to and we go one game at a time. Tonight is three points, that’s it and we move on to Ballymena on Saturday. We’re not looking ahead, we’re just looking towards Ballymena and the most important thing on Saturday is getting three points.”

O’Hara was also pleased that on-loan Ballymena United striker David Parkhouse - who will miss the weekend clash as part of the loan agreement - netted his first goal and also reserved praise for Joe Gormley’s cameo from the bench late on.

“The big lad was super. He has come in for two and a half weeks now and he’s fitted in like he’s been here forever,” O’Hara acknowledged.

“He is part of the furniture now. He loves the place and he showed it tonight.

“When he scored his goal, he was over celebrating with the fans. He enjoyed it and it was down to his hard work and his endeavour to make sure that we pick him in the next game.

“You’ve Joe, Ryan (Curran), Sean Moore, Chris Curran and all sorts of quality up top and everybody who comes onto that pitch tonight has to show the manager that they’re ready to play when they’re called upon. That’s important for us, if it's Joe or Parky to come in they have to be ready. The big lad did 75 minutes and he didn’t stop. If he had GPS on, he’d probably break it.

“On Joe, that’s why he is the best in the business and he got the two-year deal.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Joe is a talent that we probably mightn’t see in the Irish League for a long time again. Credit to him, he came on tonight and set Ronan up. Joe could have shot, but he didn’t. He saw the easier pass for Ronan just to slot it in for 3-1 and game over.”

O’Hara admits the reaction to conceding a goal was a hot topic of conversation in the build-up to Tuesday’s game and was pleased that they responded to that particular scenario. 

“We spoke about that over the last few days and to be quite honest, once the goal goes in, we have to forget about it straight away,” said O’Hara.

“There is nothing we can do about it, if the goal is given then it’s given, and we have to move on and reset our mindset for all of us in the next attack of play.

“Again, credit to our boys tonight. They conceded and forgot about it, moved on and we went up the pitch and scored within two minutes to go back to 3-1 up.”