Anyone who has watched Cliftonville multiple times this season will tell you that Paddy McLaughlin’s men are genuine title challengers.
With nine games left, the Reds are only a point below reigning champions Linfield and Glentoran heading into the final strait.
But a comparison check on how Cliftonville’s points tally compares to the same stage of last season also tells us they are currently the Irish League’s most improved team.
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The Solitude men are 12 points better off after 29 games, just above Dungannon Swifts who have amassed 10 more points than 12 months ago.
Glentoran are seven points to the good, reigning champions Linfield are one point worse off with basement club Warrenpoint Town 14 points below where they were this time last season.
When you compare the points tallies of each team to the same number of games played last season, the results are as follows…
CLIFTONVILLE +12 POINTS
- After 29 games this season: 61 points
- After 29 games last season: 49 points
There’s a very simple reason for the turnaround – Cliftonville have four more wins and four fewer defeats than at the same stage last season.
The Reds’ home form has also been crucial this campaign and a key reason why they lie third in the table, just a point behind Glentoran and Linfield.
Paddy McLaughlin’s men, who travel to face the Glens at the BetMcLean Oval on Tuesday night, have taken 40 points from a possible 48 at Solitude.
DUNGANNON SWIFTS +10 POINTS
Anyone who has watched Dungannon this season, even in defeat, will have been entertained.
Fluid, eye-catching football doesn’t guarantee you results of course, but Dean Shiels men are an impressive 10 points better off than the same stage of last season.
They boast four more wins (eight to four) while four wins in five league outings in January proved crucial in easing the Swifts away from the relegation dropzone.
GLENTORAN +7 POINTS
- After 29 games this season: 62 points
- After 29 games last season: 55 points
Mick McDermott’s men have shown more consistency and have three more wins under their belt than at the same stage last time out.
Crucially, the Glens, who lie level on points with Linfield at the summit, boast a much improved away record compared to 12 months ago.
The Big Two giants have won 10 and drawn three of 15 away league games this season. Last season, they only had six wins from 15 away games at the stage stage of the campaign.
CRUSADERS +7 POINTS
- After 28 games this season: 49 points
- After 28 games last season: 42 points
Like last season, it has been a bit of a mixed bag for the Crues, but crucially they have two more wins (15 to 13) and three fewer defeats.
Stephen Baxter’s men lie fifth in the table, but are only two points behind fourth-placed Larne with two games in hand.
Linfield lifted the Gibson Cup last season
(Image: STEPHEN HAMILTON/INPHO)
CARRICK RANGERS +5 POINTS
- After 29 games this season: 23 points
- After 29 games last season: 18 points
Carrick got off to a flier with three wins and a draw in their first six league games and they were important points in the bag at the start of the campaign.
Remarkably nine of their 23 points this season have come from three wins over Ballymena United.
Carrick are currently third bottom and face a crucial league game at home to Portadown, who lie six points below them in the relegation play-off spot, on Tuesday night.
LINFIELD -1 POINT
- After 29 games this season: 62 points
- After 29 games last season: 63 points
Linfield, aiming to win the Gibson Cup for a fourth successive year, have amassed almost the same number of points as they had this time last year.
Interestingly, David Healy’s men have fewer defeats (three to six) but eight draws compared to only three at the same stage last season means they are one point worse off.
The Blues lie top of the Danske Bank Premiership, above rivals Glentoran on goal difference and a point better off than Cliftonville heading into the final strait.
LARNE -1 POINT
- After 30 games this season: 51 points
- After 30 games last season: 52 points
Larne have more wins (15 to 14) after 30 games this season, but they have also suffered three more defeats (nine to six) than the same point last season.
Since lifting the County Antrim Shield in January, the Inver Park club has fallen out of title contention with just four wins in their last nine league outings.
PORTADOWN -4 POINTS
- After 29 games this season: 17 points
- After 29 games last season: 21 points
It has been a familiar tale for Portadown who have suffered the same number of defeats (18 losses from 29) this season as they had at the same point last season.
Of their three league wins this campaign, only one has come at Shamrock Park, a crucial 1-0 victory over bottom-placed Warrenpoint Town last weekend.
BALLYMENA UNITED -5 POINTS
- After 28 games this season: 40 points
- After 28 games last season: 45 points
David Jeffrey’s Ballymena have suffered three more defeats (12 to nine) after 28 games this season compared to this time last season.
On the plus side the Sky Blues are now 11 games unbeaten in all competitions at the Showgrounds, eight of them in the league.
GLENAVON -5 POINTS
- After 29 games this season: 38 points
- After 29 games last season: 43 points
Ten wins, eight draws and 11 defeats spells inconsistency for Glenavon.
One fewer win (10 to 11), two fewer draws and three more defeats (11 to eight) means Gary Hamilton’s men are seven points worse off compared to the same stage last season.
COLERAINE -9 POINTS
- After 29 games this season: 45 points
- After 29 games last season: 54 points
After finishing runners-up last season it has been a largely frustrating league campaign for Coleraine who currently lie sixth in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Oran Kearney’s men have lost only one more game compared to last season (eight to seven), but four fewer wins (12 to 16) and more draws (nine to six) have cost the Bannsiders.
WARRENPOINT TOWN -14 POINTS
- After 29 games this season: 12 points
- After 29 games last season: 26 points
Warrenpoint Town’s relegation fears comes down to one simple fact – they have lost eight more games (23 to 15) compared to the same stage last season.
Barry Gray’s men, who are rooted to the foot of the table with time running out, have also taken just six points from their 14 home league games this campaign.
All 12 Irish League clubs are next in action on Tuesday night with Glentoran facing Cliftonville in a title ‘six pointer’ at The BetMcLean Oval and Linfield travelling to Ballymena United.
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