Goal-shy Dungannon Swifts could struggle again against title-chasing Cliftonville

Cliftonville striker Joe Gormley celebrates with son Lorcan after scoring one of his two goals in the3-1 win over Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park in September.
Cliftonville striker Joe Gormley celebrates with son Lorcan after scoring one of his two goals in the3-1 win over Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park in September.

Danske Bank Premiership: Dungannon Swifts v Cliftonville (Stangmore Park, 7.45pm)

If the art of management involves 'beating the teams around you' then Dean Shiels is a young master.

Yet the flipside of that is his Dungannon Swifts side's almost complete inability to beat the teams above them in the league table, something that will boost the already high confidence of title-chasing Cliftonville.

Factor in the Reds' hoodoo over the Tyrone team – only losing three of the last 26 meetings, winning 14, including both meetings this season – and Paddy McLaughlin's men will surely fancy their chances of narrowing the gap to a mere point behind leaders and reigning champions Linfield. The latter thumped the Swifts 5-0 at Windsor Park on Saturday.

His Swifts counterpart Shiels has guided his side to eight wins and one draw against their three realistic rivals for relegation – and even that one blemish came because of a 90th minute equaliser from Warrenpoint Town.

The Tyrone club still aren't clear of the relegation play-off place though, largely because they've only recorded one other victory, albeit an admirable 1-0 win away against Larne, one of four league successes during six matches in January.

What's more, that draw against Warrenpoint just before Christmas is their only one in 31 league matches – meaning that they've lost 21 games, with only table-proppers Warrenpoint having been beaten more often.

The Swifts' problem is obvious: they let in far too many goals, 76 so far, an average of almost two-and-a-half per game, the worst in the division, nine more than Warrenpoint. The Stangmore side have kept only two clean sheets in the league all season, with only one at home, 2-0 against Carrick on October 22.

On the upside, they have scored more goals than four other teams, including the side above them in the table, Ballymena United.

Even with a game in hands the Swifts are highly unlikely to close that 13-point gap. They must focus much more on being caught by those trailing them, bur their other match before the split involves hosting Crusaders this Saturday.

Another recent concern for the Swifts is a lack of goals – they've failed to find the opposition net in five of their last six league matches, with only a 3-2 win at Warrenpoint the exception. In all, they've not scored in 14 league games.

In contrast, Cliftonville are on a 10-match unbeaten run, winning eight of those, including the League Cup Final in thrilling fashion after extra time against Coleraine.

The Reds have scored 21 goals in those 10 matches. One worry is that they have conceded 10, although they've improved defensively recently, with four clean sheets in their last six games.

Cliftonville can go flat-out tonight as their planned weekend trip to Portadown has been postponed due to U21 international call-ups for Paul O'Neill (Northern Ireland) and on-loan goalkeeper Luke McNicholas (Republic of Ireland).

A win this evening would ensure the Reds are ranked at least second for the post-split fixtures, ahead of Glentoran, although Linfield should seal the top ranking on Saturday when they play away to Warrenpoint.

The latter host Coleraine in tonight's other league match. It's too early to call any game a 'dead rubber', but the Down side are 12 points adrift of Portadown at the bottom, while the Bannsiders are almost certain of their place in the top six, barring two heavy defeats in their next two games – although the second of those is the visit of their rivals for that place, Glenavon.