Football/Soccer

Cliftonville out to end Linfield's perfect start

TOUCH AND GO: Ryan Curran could yet appear for Cliftonville today
By Padraig Kelly

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

CLIFTONVILLE will be hoping to break a 2018 trend and kick-start their season in the process when they welcome rivals Linfield to Solitude this afternoon.

The two games already played between the clubs in this calendar year have been won 2-1 by the away side, but Reds assistant manager Harry Fay has said that they are determined to reward their supporters with their first home win of the season.

It's the Blues who enter as the form team though. While Cliftonville have won one, drawn one and lost one, Linfield have racked up three wins without conceding a goal.

“We want to give our fans something to hold on too,” said Fay.

“They came out in big numbers to the Oval (v Glentoran) for the first game of the season.

“Everyone always says it's the match you want to play in, it's the match you look forward to as a player or a spectator or a manager.

“It has that wee bit of spice and it really gets the adrenaline pumping.

“These are the games you want to deliver in because they are the ones that almost carry an extra half point with all the rivalry.”

Manager Barry Gray has used 17 players in Cliftonville's first three league games and his assistant has said that getting a more established first 11 will be a key aim in the coming weeks.

“The big thing for us is try and get a settled team,” said Fay.

“Linfield have had that luxury for the first couple of games of the season. We haven't.

“Crusaders have been a wee bit disrupted as well and you can see that in their results.

“If you can get a settled team then hopefully the consistency in performances will start to come after that.

“Still, regardless of whatever team Cliftonville or Crusaders or any team puts out there are still high, high expectations of you and you need to deliver.”

No matter how today's game pans out, the home fans are unlikely to be heading to the exit gates early.

Late goals have defined all three of their league games this season.

In their opener against Glentoran, Jay Donnelly grabbed the winner in the 92nd minute while they went down to a 90th minute goal against Coleraine the following week. They looked set for another defeat against Dungannon last Saturday until Donnelly grabbed an equaliser with two minutes to go.

“It's the funny, the late goal has had an influence in all three of our games,” Fay said.

“In the corresponding fixture last year we were 2-0 down with 11 or 12 minutes to go and went on and won 3-2.

“I don't know if the nerves could stick another game like that but you'd take it.”

Ryan Curran missed that trip to Stangmore Park last week but Fay said that there is a small chance that he could be involved this afternoon.

“Ryan Curran is going to be close,” he said. “Whether he's fit or not for this one we'll just have to wait and see.

“Rory Donnelly (suspension) is still another four or five weeks away, Ruairi Harkin is still probably about a month away.

“Damien McNulty is still probably a couple of weeks away yet too.”

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