Release Date: Dec 09, 2011
NOVEMBER could not have gone any better for Cliftonville, writes Alex Gulrajani.
Unbeaten in the month, the north Belfast club lifted the Co Antrim Shield and while goal-scoring sensation Rory Donnelly has stolen the headlines, one man in the heart of the midfield has been key to their recent success.
Midfield engine Barry Johnston has helped to guide the Reds up to second in the league and was named as Carling's Player of the Month for November, ahead of team-mates Ryan Catney and Rory Donnelly.
"It's always nice to get personal awards and I'm delighted to have won it but it could have been anyone from the club if I'm honest," Johnston admitted.
"We've been on a fantastic run since Linfield hammered us 4-1. We regrouped after that game, sat down as a squad and talked about the targets we had set and how we hadn't lived up to them.
"Bressy [manager Tommy Breslin] reminded us he's not putting any pressure on anyone – he just wants us to go out and play the way we know how to. We ground out a few results against Carrick and Dungannon. We may have scored a few goals but it wasn't really great flowing football.
"The victory over Crusaders was really the catalyst for everything. We played outstanding and from that game, we've really pushed on tremendously."
Making it a double for the Reds, manager Tommy Breslin was named Carling's Manager of the Month. In his first season in charge, 'Bressy' has led his side on an unbeaten run going back to October and in amongst those 13 victories, Cliftonville got their hands on the first silverware of the season.
A 2-1 victory over Glentoran at the Oval brought the Co Antrim Shield back to Solitude and the 32-year-old doesn't believe it will be the only trophy in the cabinet this season.
"There are only four trophies in a season to win and to win the first gives us a big, big confidence boost," Johnston said.
"In the past, we might have slipped up after winning a big game like that but we went down to Dungannon and proved that we are mentally capable of pushing on after a big result.
"I'm a very confident man and I like to instil that confidence into the younger players. The bunch we've got now are really starting to believe in themselves.
"We all believe we can win the league this season and the youngsters, the likes of Rory and Martin Donnelly, really do believe that we can go on. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and we all have that determination.
"Chris Scannell said to us in the huddle before the Linfield match in the league that if we lose this, we're out of the league, and he was probably right.
"If they'd have won, the gap would have been ten points and that's too big a gap to give Linfield but thankfully we beat them 4-2 that day.
"We're quite happy for Linfield to be top for another couple of months. We're more than happy to play second fiddle to them at the moment – we'll keep getting on with our business.
"We've got to play them twice again and should our title challenge could come down to those games, we'll be ready."