ORAN Kearney was once again left to bemoan his side’s inability to score when they were on top as the suffered back-to-back defeats for only the third time in his tenure.
It was always going to be a tough test for the depleted Bannsiders at the home of league leaders Cliftonville. And the cause was made even tougher with only five minutes on the clock as Liam Boyce rounded Michael Doherty before slotting home Ryan Catney’s through ball.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as Joe Gormley’s shot was deflected over Doherty as John Watt attempted to block the striker’s shot.
Coleraine regrouped and halved the deficit as Stephen Lowry robbed James Knowles in the box before slipping the ball to David Scullion to tee up Curtis Allen for a tap in eight minutes before the break.
The Bannsiders dominated proceedings after that but the couldn’t find that elusive second goal.
And to rub salt into the wound Gormley shrugged off Stewart McMullan with 19 minutes to go before slotting past Doherty.
“The difference was the ability to put the ball in the net when the chances came along,” said Kearney after the game.
“It’s not a day where I could go in and criticise the players. In terms of endeavour, heart and enthusiasm, everything I asked of them was there. We just lacked a bit of quality in the final third.
“At 2-1 it was one-way traffic at times and I thought we looked likely to get an equaliser. I thought if we’d scored during that period of pressure we could have gone on to win it.
“Obviously there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a very disappointing result but I honestly feel there wasn’t much between the teams in terms of play, in fact we were probably the better side for the last 20 minutes of the first half and the first 25 minutes of the second.
“The first two goals we gave away were uncharacteristic of us and you can’t afford to give any team, especially one like Cliftonville, a two-goal head start. Although we rallied and got back into the game before the break, we really needed to take at least one of the chances we created because with the way Cliftonville’s forwards hold the ball up so well, we knew they had the potential to hurt us on the break and that’s what happened in the end.”
The result means the Bannsiders have only won one of their last seven games, but Kearney believes there are plenty of positives to take out of Saturday’s game at Solitude.
“When you’re in a bad run of form, it just seems like all the little things go against you, even right down to the bounces of the ball,” he said.
“I’m never pleased to lose, but I can take positives from the fact the players put in a great shift and gave it a real go when it would have been easy to let their heads drop after it went to 2-0. I think the reaction they got from the supporters at the end shows that they appreciated their effort, even if the final little bit of quality was lacking on the day.
“It’s a real test of the mental toughness of this group of players, but I have no doubt that they won’t hide away and will emerge from this as stronger and better players.”
Kearney admitted he gambled in handing Portuguese winger Hugo Batista a first league appearance and that it was a gamble which didn’t pay off, leading to his substitution towards the end of the first half.
“We’ve been getting great reports about Hugo for a while now,” Kearney said.
“We had him in training this week and he showed up well, so I thought it was a risk worth taking including him and that perhaps the element of the unknown about him would work to our advantage. Unfortunately it just didn’t work out on the day and although he wasn’t directly responsible for anything that went wrong in the game, we just felt we needed to change things around to get back into the game.”