Things starting to look up for Cliftonville says Jamie McGovern
Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Cliftonville v Crusaders (St Stephen’s Day, 3pm)
CLIFTONVILLE defender Jaimie McGovern has revealed a “drinking culture” among the first team squad threatened to derail their season – but feels the Reds changing room is a much better place than a few months ago.
Reds manager Gerard Lyttle has had to deal with several disciplinary issues this season, which resulted in some first team players being shown the door and others suspended.
But McGovern says the problems have been “weeded out” and the hard decisions taken by Lyttle are starting to bear fruit.
The 27-year-old Larne native also felt that off-field matters affected the home crowd, but has urged the Reds faithful to start backing the team after their fine run of form and six-game winning streak in the League that puts them within striking distance of top spot.
Speaking ahead of Monday’s north Belfast derby clash with Crusaders at Solitude, McGovern said: “I’m just glad this one is at home and I just hope our fans can be the 12th man… I think our fans have been very subdued lately, and I put that down to some of the off-field issues we’ve had to deal with.
“In some instances we [all the players] are probably being tarnished with the same brush, which is unfortunate. But our supporters are so vital to us.”
Despite his lack of managerial experience, Lyttle has rode out the storm and, against all odds, has put the Reds back in the title race
“‘Skin’ has made big calls when things weren’t going our way, and that was probably when we had off-field problems,” said McGovern.
“To make those calls with his neck on the line was credit to him, especially in his first managerial role. And I think that will hold him in good stead as he goes forward in management.
“He’s weeded all the problems out and the changing room is back to what it once was.
“It has always been ‘us-against-the-rest’. But there were little cliques developing and there was a bit of a drinking culture starting to set in. I would openly say that.”
McGovern added: “I’ve no problem with that being quoted. I like a pint as much as anybody, but there’s a time and a place. Thankfully the problems have been weeded out, and the results on the pitch are starting to change as well.
“So I would call for everybody to get behind us, come and support us because they’ll not be disappointed.
“There is no bigger game for our fans to be our 12th man and make Solitude a fortress. Every opposition player should hate coming to play at Solitude but that [fear] has gone a little bit over the last 18 months or so.
“You want players coming to Solitude with that bit of fear in them.”
The Reds suffered a humiliating 4-3 loss to the Crues at Seaview earlier in the season, squandering a 3-0 lead in the process.
“That defeat has been the talk of our changing room for a long time. We would be level on points with them now had we won that game. But, for me, the way we reacted from that last 20 minutes, the boys have been superb.”
Stephen Baxter’s men haven’t been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks but still lead by five points from Linfield, while Cliftonville are six behind their neighbours.
“Everybody knows what Crusaders are going to do but it’s trying to nullify their threats,” insisted McGovern.
“They are difficult to play against but we have had success against them before.
“If we can go out with a high tempo, high pressing and keep the ball on the ground then we do have every chance.
“If we get involved in other stuff; the long ball and by-passing midfield I don’t think we’ll have a hope.
“But that’s not what our game-plan is going to be about.”
Jason McGuinness is back after a one-match suspension to give the Reds some much-needed height and experience in defence, while Jordan Owens and wide men Paul Heatley and Gavin Whyte have been on fire for the champions.
“The key thing for us is picking up the second balls and denying their runners the space where they can go into and hurt us,” explained McGovern.
“But Crusaders have got a lot of worrying to do as well.
“We are the form team in my eyes and we will go into the game high on confidence and if we manage their threats I honestly think we have a strong chance, probably the strongest chance we’ve had against them in about 18 months.”