Football/Soccer

Cliftonville captain Curran hoping Reds can bounce back to give Linfield the Blues

Cliftonville captain Chris Curran is confident his side can come through a hectic Christmas period still in the frame at the top of the table. Picture by Pacemaker
Neil Loughran

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

IT was this time last year when the wheels really started to come off Cliftonville’s campaign, but captain Chris Curran is confident they won’t suffer another Christmas collapse as they bid to bounce back from last week’s defeat to Glentoran.

The Reds went into that game unbeaten since the end of September, but were below-par as goals early in each half from Cameron Stewart and Chris Gallagher helped the in-form Glens stun Solitude.

Curran admits it took the Cliftonville players a few days to get that result out of their systems, but insists he has no concerns about finding their form again – starting against Linfield at Windsor Park today.

“The game last week, that sort of performance came out of the blue for us,” said the 28-year-old

“It wasn’t like us at all this season; it’s probably as poor as we’ve been since Paddy [McLaughlin] came in and it’s definitely something we want to make right.

“The draw with Larne, at the time it was probably a positive result, though my own thoughts were it’s only a good point if we get three points against Glentoran and that didn’t happen.

“It makes the games that are coming up now all the more important - we need to get points on the board and make sure it’s not a repeat of last year.

“Over Christmas and early January is a really important period, you have to pick up points as and where you can. Last year it was against Institute, ironically enough, where it sort of started to unravel a bit – I don’t have the same fears this time around.

“We’ve a better group of players, we’re better prepared going into December and the New Year, there’s a bit more character about us now, we’re a bit stronger.

“Last year we had a few more of the kind of performance we saw last week against Glentoran, where this year that was a bit of an outlier, so we’ll try and just go back to what we were doing.”

McLaughlin’s men are still joint top of the table alongside Crusaders and Coleraine, both of whom they will come up against in a crunch Christmas period that will put their title credentials to the test.

Today they come up against Linfield for the fourth time this season, with the Reds chasing a first win over a Blues side who sit two points back with two games in hand.

“Definitely, it’s the biggest game we’ve faced them in this season,” said Curran.

“This is a massive game for both sides. Linfield, with their result midweek [losing 3-0 to Coleraine in the County Antrim Shield], they’ll feel they have a point to prove, and we definitely know we can be better than last week’s performance.

“It gives us a chance to create a bit of breathing space again where they’ll be looking to jump us in the table. The stakes are high but there’s no better game for us to come off the back of last week’s disappointment and try to get back to winning ways.

“These are the games you want to play in, and you hope your big players can perform and come to the fore. I’m looking forward to this, I think we all are.

“It hurt us to lose to Glentoran at home the way we did. You do have to be critical about your performances but, with the games coming thick and fast, you don’t really have time to dwell too much on it.”

IRISH LEAGUE STATS

(all games kick-off at 3pm today)

Carrick Rangers v Institute

CARRICK swept to a stunning 6-2 victory over struggling Glenavon last week, hot on the heels of a dogged display in defeat to table-topping Crusaders. Niall Currie’s side won 2-0 at the Brandywell in the early weeks of the season and will fancy their chances of picking up another vital three points today.

Odds: H: Evs D: 13/5 A: 2/1

Prediction: Carrick Rangers

Coleraine v Glentoran

GLENTORAN boss Mick McDermott was named manager of the month after guiding his side through November unbeaten, finishing off with an impressive 2-0 win at Solitude last week. They face a Coleraine side today buoyed by their midweek win over Linfield and keen to keep the pressure on at the top.

Odds: H: 4/5 D: 11/4 A: 5/2

Prediction: Draw

Crusaders v Ballymena United

CRUSADERS moved back into top spot after a 6-1 blitz of Dungannon Swifts, and David Jeffrey’s struggling Braidmen won’t be relishing the trip to Seaview. The Hatchetmen are on an eight match unbeaten run across all competitions while Ballymena United have lost seven of their last eight and are without a league win since the end of September.

Odds: H: 1/4 D: 4/1 A: 7/1

Prediction: Crusaders

Dungannon Swifts v Warrenpoint Town

WITH recent wins over Ballymena United and high-flying Coleraine, Warrenpoint head for Stangmore Park in confident mood - even in the aftermath of their midweek Mid-Ulster Cup exit to Glenavon. The ’Point face a Swifts side still reeling from back-to-back 6-1 defeats at the hands of Glentoran and Crusaders.

Odds: H: 6/5 D: 11/4 A: 8/5

Prediction: Draw

Glenavon v Larne

WINS over Linfield and Institute looked to have got Glenavon back on track until last week’s shock 6-2 humbling at the hands of Carrick Rangers. Larne also hit the Lurgan Blues for six in their only previous meeting this season, winning 6-0 at Inver Park back in October.

Odds: H: 7/5 D: 13/5 A: 7/5

Prediction: Larne

Linfield v Cliftonville

BOTH will be keen to get back to winning ways after disappointing recent results. The Blues lost 3-0 at home to Coleraine in the County Antrim Shield on Wednesday night while Cliftonville’s undefeated run, which stretched back to the end of September, was brought to an end by Glentoran last Saturday. Linfield are two points behind the third-placed Reds with two games in hand.

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

Prediction: Linfield

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Football/Soccer