Cliftonville in struggle for third spot and Europe with in-form Coleraine
CLIFTONVILLE boss Gerard Lyttle feels that the ‘penny has dropped' for some of his players about what is at stake in the final five games of the season.
Despite an injury-ravaged campaign, the Solitude side can leapfrog today's opponents Coleraine and jump into third place in the table with a win and Lyttle says a lot of hard work is required to reach their goal.
“Our target is third spot and that's the big goal and the big incentive. Considering the season we've had, to still be in the position to do that, it says a lot about the players who have been playing,” says ‘Skin'.
“We've been talking about it and working hard and we've seen signs over the last few weeks especially that maybe the penny has dropped with a few of them. We just have to keep working hard. Our big thing at the minute is our work rate. If we can outwork teams then we have a better chance of winning more games. I thought in the last game, against Ballymena, we did that. Our work rate was phenomenal and some our play fell into place.”
However, The Reds face an in-form Bannsiders who have won nine out of their previous 11 league games with their last defeat coming in a 2-0 Boxing Day defeat to fierce rivals Ballymena United.
Oran Kearney's men also booked their place in the Irish Cup Final last weekend following their 2-1 semi-final victory over Glenavon and are without doubt the form team in the country ahead of Cliftonville's visit this afternoon.
“Coleraine are a great team with a good manager and they've done really well to go on a run like they have, especially at this part of the season, which is the most important part. You can't knock them for that.
“But we've done well against them this season. We've got seven points from nine against them so we have a good record at the minute and hopefully on Saturday that can continue,” said Lyttle.
“Our players know the run that Coleraine have been on, but I've stressed that we want to focus on the good things that we can do.
“There is no denying the run they're on. They have momentum in their favour and when you have that momentum, it's hard to lose and things seem to fall into place. In the past few weeks people have been saying that run is going to come to and end, but that's when we've seen how good a team they are because, at the minute, it's not happening.
“They've been winning big games of late and Saturday is another massive game for both clubs. They'll be on a high from the semi-final win over Glenavon and hopefully they will have one eye on the Irish Cup Final. But we'll focus on what we can do and our game plan and how we feel is best to beat them,” he admitted.
With long-term injury victims Ryan Catney, Ruairi Harkin and James Knowles all out, striker Daniel Hughes is the latest casualty with the club awaiting results of a scan of an Achilles problem, while Chris Ramsey is also injured for today's clash.
However, Lyttle is able to avail of the services of his captain and vice-captain with both Jason McGuinness and Jaimie McGovern returning from suspension.
“Having Jason and Jaimie back available is a great bonus for us to be able to add that experience into the squad going into the last five games,” Lyttle said.
Meanwhile, Portadown could be relegated to the Championship if they fail to beat second-bottom Carrick Rangers away from home on Saturday.
Niall Currie's side sit 14 points adrift of Carrick with five game remaining and anything other than a victory at the Belfast Loughshore Arena will finally seal their fate with Warrenpoint Town's promotion to the Premiership already confirmed after they sealed the Championship title with four games to go following a 3-2 victory at home to Institute last weekend.