Anybody who says Cliftonville out of title race already is talking rubbish says boss Barry Gray
Danske Bank Premiership: Warrenpoint Town v Cliftonville (today, 3pm)
CLIFTONVILLE manager Barry Gray says anybody who claims his side are already out of this season's title race is guilty of talking “rubbish”.
The Reds have endured a rocky start to their season so far, drawing two, losing two and winning two of their opening six Danske Bank Premiership games, including a surprise defeat at newly-promoted Newry City. Last Friday night, they secured their first home win of the season with a 3-0 win over Institute. Today, they travel to basement club Warrenpoint Town, who remain without a point after their first five games.
Currently, Cliftonville are in sixth place in the table, six points behind an unbeaten Linfield side, who occupy top spot. However, Gray says the belief remains strong within his squad that they can challenge for major honours this term.
“You'll hear all sorts of negative voices saying Cliftonville are never going to win the league this season, that they're not consistent enough, they're not this or they're not that – that's rubbish,” said the Reds boss.
“We had a notion at the start of the season that we would be able to challenge, or stay in contention, for the league title until the end of the season and we still believe that.
“Is there a difference between ourselves and Linfield at present? Certainly. But we're not a million miles off and we haven't even got close to the decisive games of the season yet.
“This time last year, we had major problems to fix within the squad. Those problems aren't there anymore – we have tweaks to make, but that's it.”
That comfortable win over Institute eased some of the early season pressure on the Reds and, with the likes of Crusaders enduring their own struggles, they are not a million miles off the chasing pack.
“After the Newry game, I asked for a response from the players and, to be a fair, I got it against Institute,” added Gray.
“When you get beat, the priority next time out has to be to get a win, not the performance. It wasn't pretty against Institute, but that doesn't matter now, we got what we needed.
“All the teams around us, bar maybe Linfield – and even they drew with Ards – are dropping points against teams you wouldn't expect them to. If you listen to the negative voices, we're no further on from where we were last season and da, da, da, da, but there is a one game swing between us and those above us.”
Today's game against Warrenpoint must present an enticing opportunity to close that gap, especially with Coleraine and Glenavon facing tricky games on the road at Ards and Institute respectively, but Gray is taking nothing for granted at his old stomping ground.
“The game against Warrenpoint could be one for us to relish or it could be a booby trap, it could go either way,” he said.
“If we do what we done in Newry, then we'll get nothing from the game, but I'm confident that won't be the case.
“Cliftonville have never got it easy at Warrenpoint, but if we remain professional and work our socks off, I'm confident our quality will show.
“Warrenpoint are going to catch somebody out one of these days, we just have to make sure it's not us and hope it's one of the teams around us when it does happen.”
Rory Donnelly remains suspended for today's game, while Ruairi Harkin is the sole Red on the treatment table.
IRISGH LEAGUE STATS
(all matches today, 3pm)
Ards v Coleraine
ONE week from the departure of Oran Kearney to St Mirren, Coleraine look to have found a replacement manager in Rodney McAree.
The Dungannon Swifts boss has been in talks with the Bannsiders and could be in post sooner rather than later.
Coleraine haven't played since their 3-0 demolition of Crusaders at Seaview in what turned out to be Kearney's final game in charge, and Trevor McKendry should be in the hot seat for this one.
Odds: H: 15/2 D: 15/4 A: 2/7
Crusaders v Newry City
CRUSADERS will desperate to get over the hangover their humbling at the hands of Coleraine last time out.
Having lost two out of the last three, Stephen Baxter's men find themselves in the unfamiliar position of eighth in the Danske Bank Premiership table.
The Newry City side visiting Belfast may well be way of a Shore Road backlash.
Odds: H: 1/9 D: 6/1 A: 14/1
Institute v Glenavon
A 1-1 draw with Glentoran in their last game left Glenavon four points adrift of table topping Linfield, albeit with a game in hand.
Institute, on the other hand, shipped three with reply against Cliftonville last Friday night. Boss Paddy McLaughlin distanced himself from the Coleraine job earlier this week, and this should help them build on an impressive season to date.
Odds: H 17/4 D 3/1 A 1/2
Linfield v Dungannon Swifts
DAVID Healy's league leaders thumped lowly Warrenpoint Town 5-0 last time out, and they will be aiming to repeat the trick against struggling Dungannon this afternoon.
The Swifts have picked up just two points from their five Danske Bank Premiership games to date this season, and they could be without a manager by the time this afternoon's game kicks-off at Windsor Park.
Rodney McAree has been in talks with Coleraine and looks ever more likely to replace Oran Kearney by the Bann.
Odds: H: 2/7 D: 15/4 A: 15/2
Warrenpoint Town v Cliftonville
CLIFTONVILLE look to have got their stuttering season up and running with a win over Institute last Friday, while Warrenpoint won't be relishing facing the likes of Joe Gormley.
The Town already have a goal difference of minus 18 and shipped five to Linfield the last time they took to the pitch.
Odds: H: 13/2 D: 7/2 A: 1/3