Cliftonville aim to maintain early season form with north Belfast derby win at Crusaders
Danske Bank Premiership: Crusaders v Cliftonville (today, 3pm)
PADDY McLaughlin acknowledges the Cliftonville fans are buzzing after a start to the Danske Bank Premiership season which has seen them pick up nine points from their first three match – but he knows their perfect record will come under intense scrutiny at Seaview this afternoon.
The Reds have impressed since the Irish League kicked off again late last month, with last Saturday's 1-0 win over Glentoran at Solitude being perhaps the game that will make the teams around them sit up and take note. Win today at the home of their close rivals, and there will surely be talk of a title challenge.
The Cliftonville defence managed to keep a much-talked about Glentoran attack at bay at Soltiude, although they may have rode their luck at times in the first-half, and McLaughlin says there is a new steeliness about his players which may serve them well over the course of the season.
“Since the players reported back in pre-season, I've sensed a different mentality,” the Cliftonville manager said.
“They've been superb in training and in the games and the new additions have added to that. When you've won three in a row, you go into any game full of confidence but we're also very aware of how good Crusaders are.
“In a north Belfast Derby, form doesn't matter and both teams will go at it from the first whistle.”
The wins over Carrick Rangers, Coleraine and the Glens will have sent confidence surging through the camp, which would only be enhanced by a result at Seaview, but McLaughlin is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“It's only been three games, which is nothing,” he added.
“You don't look at the league table until there's 10 or 15 matches played, so I don't think anybody's getting too carried away. They should be confident and I'm sure the fans are buzzing, but we're realistic in what we're doing here and we know this will be another battle and another tough game and that's the only thing we're concerned with.”
Crusaders legend Colin Coates is expected to make his Cliftonville debut against his old club this afternoon. The 35-year-old captained the Crues during his 18 years with the club, winning three league titles and two Irish Cups along the way. Coates had spent last season at Glenavon but put to paper on a deal with his former north Belfast rivals at the start of this month.
Elsewhere today, Linfield will travel to Shamrock Park to take on a Portadown side who have just the one point to show from three games. Glenavon, who hammered Warrenpoint 6-1 last weekend, will hope to be among the goals again when they host Carrick Rangers at Mourneview.
Coleraine endured a tough start to the season – losing their opening two fixtures to Larne and Cliftonville – but they got off the mark against Carrick Rangers last Saturday and they will aim to make it two on the bounce when they travel to Stangmore Park to face Dungannon Swifts.
Larne will expect to maintain their 100 per cent record when they host Warrenpoint Town at Inver Park.