Manager Gerard Lyttle hails Cliftonville's never-say-die attitude
Danske Bank Premiership: Glentoran v Cliftonville
(Saturday, the Oval, 3pm)
CLIFTONVILLE boss Gerard Lyttle has hailed the “mental toughness” of his players following their gritty mid-week win over Linfield – but wants that performance to be the team’s platform for the rest of the season.
Lyttle revealed he questioned his players’ ability to deal with rocky moments in games after they’d squandered a three-goal lead against defending champions Crusaders only to lose 4-3 at the start of this month. On Tuesday night, the former Reds midfielder got his answer as they inflicted the first league defeat on high-flying Linfield.
“The most pleasing thing was the mentality the players showed against Linfield,” said Lyttle.
“I’ve questioned our players about their mental toughness at certain times this season. We haven’t been beating the top end teams. We should have beaten Crusaders, and we didn’t. When we’ve conceded against the top teams, we’ve had this mental block of some sort, that we’re going to lose. So the Linfield win was important from that perspective.
“Yes, we were leading but when they equalised we knew they were going to pile the pressure on, and we reacted well; we went up and scored immediately after that. That’s what I’ve kept drilling into the boys: if we concede a goal, rather than crumble, let’s go at the opposition, and don’t feel sorry for ourselves. People are complimenting us on the football we’re playing. I know we can play football, but we showed other qualities on Tuesday night: belief and mental toughness that you need to win big games.”
Despite a disastrous second-half against Crusaders three weeks ago, Lyttle feels he is finally starting to put his own stamp on the team after taking over from Tommy Breslin in the early throes of last season. Under Lyttle, the Reds finished fourth last season, retained the League Cup and qualified for Europe.
“I want to put my stamp on things and I know how I want my team to play,” he said.
“I know the standards I want of my players, on and off the pitch - and I feel it’s now starting to take shape. I know what type of changing room I want, the type of player I want, and I feel I’m getting the blend right. But I’m still looking to improve. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
The Reds hotseat has been a demanding role particularly after the most successful period in the club's century-long history under Tommy Breslin - but Lyttle has enjoyed his stint on the sidelines and is thankful for the backing he’s received from club chairman Gerard Lawlor.
“It’s a very demanding job, very testing, but that’s what I want. It has tested me as a person; it has tested my character and my beliefs I have on the game," he added.
“People say it’s a part-time job, but it’s not. You never stop. But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. I’ve embraced challenges throughout my career and I’ll rise to this one.”
Lyttle added: “Gerard Lawlor has stood by me and he’s given me the chance, and it’s good that you have that backing from the chairman.
“And I also thought the support we got against Linfield on Tuesday night was excellent. But we need to back that performance up for the rest of the season.”
The Reds, who have lost just twice in their last eight league outings and lie in fourth place, travel to Glentoran this afternoon who ended a seven-match winless streak by banking three points against Dungannon Swifts last weekend.
Ards v Dungannon Swifts
ARDS’ sprint start took everyone by surprise but they’ve dropped to sixth place after losing four out of their last five league games. But, apart from their 4-0 mauling at the hands of Linfield on September 24, Niall Currie’s men have been competitive in every game.
The Swifts have also lost a bit of that early season momentum too and will get it tough down in Clandeboye on Saturday.
Odds: H:6/4 D:13/5 A:7/5
Ballinamallard United v Portadown
THE Ports remain in utter turmoil and it might have been better had they been relegated for illegal payments to their players, instead they were docked 12 points. Ballinamallard have suffered a couple of heavy losses, but boss Gavin Dyke is beginning to see the fruits of his labour.
Odds: H:1/1 D:5/2 A:21/10
Coleraine v Linfield
THE Bannsiders will be aware of feeling a Linfield backlash this afternoon after the Blues suffered their first league loss in mid-week to Cliftonville. The Blues, who have the best defensive record in the league by quite a distance, were lucky to draw with Coleraine early in the campaign.
The home team are unbeaten in their last five games and have won their last three.
Odds: H:11/5 D:13/5 A:10/11
Crusaders v Carrick Rangers
AARON CALLAGHAN goes back to his old stomping ground of Seaview this afternoon tasked with keeping Carrick in the top flight this season. His Taylor’s Avenue reign got off to a good start when they drew with Glenavon last week.
But just look at the odds for this game. The Crues should be back on the saddle after Saturday’s clash following last Saturday's loss to Ballymena.
Odds: H:1/10 D:13/2 A:14/1
Glenavon v Ballymena United
LAST season, this would have been a banker three points for the Lurgan Blues. But the Braidmen have made terrific improvement under David Jeffrey while Glenavon’s expected title tilt hasn’t quite caught fire yet.
Ballymena’s firepower could be the difference here.
Odds: H:11/10 D:23/10 A:21/10
Glentoran v Cliftonville
THE Glens have dropped to 10th place, but new manager Gary Haveron has brought fresh energy and enthusiasm to the east Belfast strugglers. The Reds showed character to overcome Linfield in mid-week and will be keen to build on it on Saturday.
Odds: H:10/3 D:11/4 A:4/6