Football/Soccer

Victory over Linfield could be our springboard: Cliftonville ace Daniel Hughes

Cliftonville's Daniel Hughes (left) feels the Reds aren't far away from hitting top form

Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Cliftonville v Linfield (today, Solitude, 3pm)

 

CLIFTONVILLE striker Daniel Hughes says a win over league champions Linfield at Solitude this afternoon could be the platform for the Reds climbing up the table.

Barry Gray’s men, who sit in sixth place, have had a stuttering start to the new campaign having already lost four league games and conceded more goals than they’ve scored.

But Hughes feels the tide is turning in Cliftonville’s favour as the new manager searches for the right balance between defence and attack.

The north Belfast men came from behind to defeat Carrick Rangers last weekend – thanks to a second-half brace from Joe Gormley – which sets them up for a crack at the Blues this afternoon.

“It’s been a tough start,” said Hughes.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted but slowly but surely we’re getting there. We’re just trying to get the boys used to playing with each other as there are a lot of new faces.”

Part of the teething problems at Solitude have been finding the right blend in attack.

With Gormley, Hughes, Rory Donnelly and Jay Donnelly effectively battling for two places, Gray had actually tried shoe-horning the talented quartet into his starting line-up but with mixed results.

The new boss went with a more conventional line-up against Carrick last week and it paid dividends.

“We had four strikers on the pitch against Glenavon and it didn’t work out,” Hughes admitted.

“I'd say it’s going to be two strikers on the team and the other two strikers on the bench having to fight for their places. It keeps us all on our toes. If you’re not doing it then you’re out.

“Looking at our team on paper the opposition would be worried.

“Our strike-force will click – it’s just going to take time. You can see glimpses of it but once we click we’ll be scary going forward.”

After Gerard ‘Skin’ Lyttle’s departure towards the end of last season, the Reds board appointed former Warrenpoint Town manager Gray.

Hughes was one of Gray’s best performers during his three years at the Milltown club and the former Bolton Wanderers trialist was happy to see his former boss get the Solitude job.

“It was maybe a bit easier for me and maybe Liam [Bagnall] because we know what Barry expects from players and what he wants, whereas the other players didn’t know him and he didn’t know them. I think Barry was a good appointment for the club and he’ll definitely turn things around.

“‘Skin’ brought me to the club and after he left for Sligo Rovers I was thinking: ‘The new manager mightn’t fancy me’ – and you would think Barry doesn’t fancy me because he’s not picking me at the minute!” Hughes joked.

“But as long as the team’s winning I’ll not be complaining.

“It was always going to take a while getting used to a new manager coming in but after the first few weeks the players are listening to Barry and are buying into what he wants. Hopefully it’ll work out in the long run.”

Asked how animated Gray can get in the changing room, Hughes replied: “He can shout alright. And when he loses the head he’s an absolute maniac, which I think is a good thing.

“Players need that in a changing room. Having a manager who is nicey-nicey all the time is no good to anybody.”

Today’s visit of Linfield is the ultimate test – but Hughes insists the Reds players will relish the tie.

“I know it’s early in the season but this game could make our season because if we win the confidence we’re going to get from it will be massive and we’d be able to carry that with us.”

“Even with Andy Waterworth out injured for Linfield they’re still winning and scoring goals. If you finish higher than Linfield you’ll win the league.”

 

Danske Bank Irish Premiership

Ballinamallard United v Ards

GOALS have been hard to come by for these Premiership strugglers. The ‘Mallards are rooted to the foot of the table after an eight-game losing streak in the league. Ards have shown some encouraging glimpses and are certainly good enough for a share of the spoils at Ferney Park.

Odds: H:6/4 D:12/5 A:7/5

Prediction: Ards

Ballymena United v Coleraine

THE Bannsiders dropped their first points of the new season after a scoreless draw at Glentoran last weekend. There is plenty of steel, legs and sufficient creativity in this Coleraine side to retain top spot after today’s short trip to the Showgrounds.

Odds: H:13/5 D:11/4 A:4/5

Prediction: Coleraine

Cliftonville v Linfield

STILL some teething problems being ironed out among the new-look Reds. The Blues, who have conceded just three goals in eight league outings, will know they’re in a game by the end but the points look destined for south Belfast.

Odds: H:10/3 D:11/4 A:8/13

Prediction: Linfield

Warrenpoint Town v Carrick Rangers

WE’RE not out of September yet but this is already a ‘six-pointer’ at the bottom end of the table. The form of both sides is poor but home advantage and that bit of quality in the final third might see the Milltown club celebrate their second league win of the season.

Odds: H:1/1 D:5/2 A:21/10

Prediction: Warrenpoint

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