Cliftonville looking to keep cup dream alive against Loughgall

Reds haven’t lifted the cup since 1979

Cliftonville boss Jim Magilton is hoping they can maintain their title challenge with a tricky trip to Carrick on Sunday
Cliftonville boss Jim Magilton has been busy in the transfer market but will be hoping his team can do the business on the field as they seek to keep their Irish Cup campaign on track against Loughgall on Saturday
Clearer Water Irish Cup sixth round: Cliftonville v Loughgall (Saturday, 3pm)

Cliftonville head into Saturday’s sixth round Clearer Water Irish Cup tie against Loughgall at Solitiude, with hopes high that they can end their 45-year hoodoo in the competition.

You have to go all the way back to the spring of 1979 for the last time the Reds lifted the coveted trophy, with Tony Bell the hero on the day, grabbing the winner in a 3-2 victory over Portadown.

Despite making the final on five occasions since then, including the 1999 final that never was, when they were kicked out for fielding an ineligible player in an earlier round, they have forever been the bridesmaid and never the bride.

This season there is real optimism around the north Belfast club as they are involved in a three-horse race with Linfield and Larne in the Sports Direct Premiership title and have their eyes on the domestic double.

Jim Magilton comes into the game against the Co Armagh side in a rich vein of form, having been undefeated in the league since losing away to Larne in early November, and has made some shrewd moves in the transfer market.

After Crikey Gallagher’s move to Larne was finally completed after a long running soap-style saga, Magilton has welcomed – and retained – some real talent at the club.

Goalkeeper David Odumosu has become a permanent member of the squad this week, after being on loan, and remains as part of a swap-plus-cash deal that sees Luke Turner move in the opposite direction to St.Pats.

Defender Eric Yoro has also arrived from Bolton Wanderers on loan, and perhaps most exciting of all is the capture of Paddy Burns - the younger brother of Glentoran’s Bobby – who was at the club as a youth and arrives from a successful stint at Notre Dame University team in the United States.

Burns chose the Belfast side ahead of interest from Dundalk in the League of Ireland and Motherwell in Scotland.

A win would give Magilton’s side further confidence as they head into tricky ties with Glentoran and Linfield in the next two weeks.

Having seen off Coleraine 3-0 in the fifth round, thanks to a Ronan Hale hat-trick, Cliftonville will not be taking anything for granted against a Loughgall side, keen on causing an upset of two.

Coming into the season as many people’s favourites for relegation, Dean Smith has all but ensured Premiership status next year, as they occupy seventh spot in the table almost 20 points clear of basement side Newry City.

This hard work and impressive performances so far, mean Smith’s side can concentrate on the cup as a real possibility of silverware.

By managing to hold onto 15-goal striker Benji Magee, Smith has secured the services of a man coveted by almost all of the biggest sides in the league, and this will feel like a huge coup for the Lakeview Park outfit.

After seeing off Rosemount Rec 3-0 in the last round, Loughgall will know they are in for a completely different challenge this weekend. However, they will take heart that the last time the sides met at Solitude earlier in the season they held Magilton’s side to a 1-1 draw.

A home win is likely but as Ards showed in their win over Crusaders in round five, never rule out the underdog in this competition.

AFTER sailing past H&W Welders in round five, Larne now face a much stiffer test in Glenavon as they hope to progress to the next stage of the Irish Cup. Andy Ryan nailed two goals in the previous outing, and he has been in fantastic form in front of the posts.

Glenavon likewise had an easy outing in round four but a step up in class will certainly challenge them. League leaders Linfield take on Ballymena in round six while Newry City, currently sitting at the bottom of the league table, face Newington.

Ards came through a dramatic penalty shootout in the previous round to see off holders Crusaders after the sides had finished 1-1, with Ethan Taggart nailing the winning penalty, and they now meet Institute at Brandywell.

Likewise, Portadown moved into the six round via a spot kick victory over Carrick Rangers as the visitors netted each of their five penalties after keeper Aaron Hogg had saved Carrick’s first penalty.

Bangor stand in Portadown’s way of continuing their cup run, although the Portadown men will have home advantage. Dungannon Swifts will hope to have too much this weekend when they lock horns with Ballyclare Comrades.

Clearer Water Irish Cup sixth round

Cliftonville v Loughgall

Institute v Ards

Larne v Glenavon

Linfield v Ballymena Utd

Portadown v Bangor FC

Dungannon Swifts v Ballyclare

Newry City v Newington