Cliftonville set for north Belfast derby clash with rivals Crusaders
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville v Crusaders (today, 3pm, Solitude)
FOR the past 10 days, football has been the furthest thing from the minds of everybody at Cliftonville as the club continues to try and make sense of the shock passing of former boss Tommy Breslin.
On the pitch, the players – many of whom served under Breslin or knew him well – have performed admirably, snatching a late draw in Coleraine on the opening day before getting the better of Glenavon on an emotionally-charged night at Solitude last Tuesday.
Today they face their biggest test yet in the shape of north Belfast rivals Crusaders, but boss Paddy McLaughlin admits the loss of such an important figure has put what happens between the white lines firmly into perspective.
“It’s been a difficult time for the club,” said the Derry native.
“To be fair to the boys, they’ve refocused. They were devastated when they heard the news, and understandably it was difficult to get them to tune into the games coming up.
“A lot of them were close to Tommy and, even from my own experience, he was always very good and very helpful. He was brilliant with me when I had my interview and in the few times I met him after, he always had words of wisdom to offer not just me but the players; a lot of them he obviously knew very well.
“It’s difficult for people to focus on football again after such a sad thing happens.”
After their impressive European exploits, allied to the signing of Jamie McGonigle from Coleraine and the loan capture of Oldham’s Harry Robinson, the Crues come into this derby clash in buoyant mood.
And with two wins from two games, seven goals scored and none conceded, McLaughlin is well aware of the challenge presented by Stephen Baxter’s side.
He said: “Over the last couple of years Crusaders have been really successful in terms of winning leagues and winning cups.
“They’ve had their good run in Europe, and you know the financial reward that comes along with that, so they’re well within their rights to sign as many players as they want because they’ve earned that right.
The teams around us have spent money and they have got finances they can dip into which probably we don’t have, but we don’t really focus too much on that.
“We just focus on what we’ve got at the club, which is good young players, good established players, we’ve added one or two really talented players as well, so if we focus on ourselves and keep working hard we’re more than capable of competing against any team in the Irish League.”
The Crues aren’t the only ones who have been busy in the transfer market either.
Cliftonville snapped up Ronan Wilson and midfield schemer Ronan Doherty from McLaughlin’s former club Institute, while Conor McDermott arrived on loan from Derry City.
McLaughlin is happy with the impact his new recruits have made thus far, and hasn’t ruled out adding to his squad before the end of the transfer deadline on August 31.
“You never know what could happen,” he said.
“Somebody could get injured, somebody could want away- hopefully not. Somebody could become available who wouldn’t be in your sight at the minute.
“But now that the season’s up and running, we’re delighted with the squad we’ve got.
You’re always on the look-out for talent you could bring to the club that might add to what you already have, but if the window closed tomorrow I wouldn’t be worried about it.”
IRISH LEAGUE STATS
(all games kick-off at 3pm)
Cliftonville v Crusaders
DESPITE a tough couple of weeks for the club following the death of former Reds boss Tommy Breslin, Cliftonville have still managed to take four points from their opening two games with a draw against Coleraine before victory over Glenavon at an emotional Solitude on Tuesday night.
Stephen Baxter’s men, meanwhile, come into the first north Belfast derby of the season in confident mood after backing up their European exploits with 3-0 and 4-0 wins over Carrick and Warrenpoint respectively. An intriguing clash awaits.
Odds: H: 17/10 D: 5/2 A: 6/5
Dungannon Swifts v Glentoran
GLENTORAN head to Stangmore Park in search of their first victory of the season, after back to back draws with Glenavon and Coleraine – indeed they needed two late goals to salvage a share of the points at The Oval on Tuesday night.
Kris Lindsay’s Dungannon are unbeaten too after following up their opening-day draw with a 3-2 victory over Institute.
Odds: H: 17/10 D: 23/10 A: 13/10
Glenavon v Warrenpoint Town
IT was a subdued atmosphere at Solitude on Tuesday night, and Glenavon struggled to get into the game as they were swept aside by Cliftonville. Only when Andrew Mitchell was introduced after the break did Gary Hamilton’s men begin to look dangerous, and he is likely to start against Warrenpoint.
Having already suffered 4-0 and 6-0 defeats to Larne and Crusaders, it looks like being a long and difficult season for Warrenpoint, who snapped up former Dungannon and Bray Wanderers goalkeeper Evan Moran earlier this week.
Odds: H: 1/6 D: 5/1 A: 9/1
Institute v Carrick Rangers
AFTER losing manager John Quigg at the start of the season, things haven’t got much better for Institute following defeats to Linfield and Dungannon Swifts – with first team coach Sean Friars admitting they have to tighten up at the back.
Facing Carrick Rangers, who have also lost their first two games, offers the Derry men the chance to get a win on the board.
Odds: H: 11/10 D: 12/5 A: 15/8
Larne v Ballymena United
THIS could be a spicy affair, with former Ballymena United forward Johnny McMurray coming up against his ex-team-mates for the first time since his transfer to Larne boss Tiernan Lynch will hope to welcome back captain Jeff Hughes after he missed Tuesday night’s win over Carrick Rangers.
David Jeffrey’s Ballymena, who didn’t play midweek, are still without forward Adam Lecky as they bid to improve upon their opening day draw with Dungannon.
Odds: H: 8/11 D: 13/5 A: 3/1
Linfield v Coleraine
FOLLOWING their Euro heroics during the week, Linfield come into today’s game with a spring in their step, and will be confident of picking up their second victory of the season.
It has been a frustrating start to the season for Oran Kearney, meanwhile, as late levellers have prevented Coleraine taking maximum points against Cliftonville and Glentoran.
Odds: H: 8/15 D: 3/1 A: 7/2