Cliftonville must show renewed intensity and heart against Ballymena
GERARD Lyttle was encouraged by Cliftonville's performance last time out and wants more of the same when Ballymena United visit Solitude this afternoon.
Though disappointed to be held to a draw by Dungannon Swifts, the Reds produced a display bustling with heart and greater intensity of application – components that Lyttle readily admits have been missing from too many matches of late.
As the north Belfast side target a late-season charge towards Europe, 'Skin' knows only too well the significance of three points against the Sky Blues today.
“After losing to Linfield, we spoke in the changing room about the need for leadership,” explains Lyttle.
“I called for people to step up to the mark, to demand possession and to be brave on the ball. Too often recently, I think people were leaving that for others to do. It's a confidence thing and when results haven't been going the way you want, you see players going into their shells more and more every week – but we had to put an end to it.
“I think anyone who saw the game against Dungannon will agree we were much improved. Obviously there were things we weren't happy with – the goals we conceded were poor from a defensive point of view – but we had a good work-rate, competed well, harassed and harried and, in the end, we probably should have won it. We came close to getting a late winner twice and I've told the boys that, if they produce that kind of performance regularly, their luck will change.”
That stalemate at Stangmore Park saw Cliftonville drop to fourth in the Danske Bank Premiership and defeat to Ballymena today would see the visitors draw level on points with Lyttle's men as the table's post-split schedule looms.
However, a win for Lyttle's men would not only open up some daylight ahead of the Braidmen, it would set the Reds up perfectly for their April 8 trip to Coleraine, who currently occupy third place – a position that could carry automatic European qualification depending on who wins the Irish Cup.
“Every game is vital and, while we've not had the greatest last few months, we still have a chance to rectify things because every match we play between now and the end of April will be against teams in the top six,” adds the Solitude supremo.
“Teams will take points off one another and, as we see every season, there tends to be one side that puts a good run together at just the right time. There's no reason why that can't be us.
“It all starts against Ballymena and we want to build on what we did last week – except get the win this time. We need to win a match and I don't care how we do it. Finding a way to get the points is what I asked of the players last week – it didn't happen, but they battled right to the end and came very close.
“We need to have that same attitude against Ballymena. They're a good team who have given us some tough tests this season, but we need to step up and show what we're about.”