Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville title dreams frozen out

By Graham Luney

Eddie Patterson says he doesn’t believe his side can challenge for the Gibson Cup this season.

Cliftonville and Crusaders, who hope to beat the weather and collide at Solitude today, will not give up the chase as they hunt down their richer rivals across the city but the Big Two will take some stopping.

There is no shortage of skill and steel in north Belfast but injuries and suspensions have a more devastating impact on their title assaults.

Cliftonville and the Crues have been frozen out of league title success since the Reds triumphed in 1998, with Crusaders enjoying a day in the sun the year before.

Both sides have beaten Linfield and Glentoran this season but showing the consistency that wins league titles is a very different proposition.

“I don’t think we have the squad to challenge for the title at the moment,” admitted Patterson.

“I think the Co-operative Insurance Cup defeat to Glentoran was a warning to us, when we didn’t turn up at all.

“We are just delighted to be in the position we are in (fourth) and will aim to finish as high as possible.

“A number of our players are young and inexperienced and you will struggle to get consistency with that, the kind of level of performance week in, week out which is needed to win titles.

“Injuries to players like Ryan Catney, Mark Holland, Barry Holland and now Barry Johnston stretches our squad to the limit but we will keep striving for that consistency all teams are looking for.”

Patterson is not confident Solitude will be playable today but, if a thaw arrives, he does expect a few raised temperatures on the pitch.

Last year’s Boxing Day derby was overshadowed by six dismissals as the red mist descended but Cliftonville were content to go home with the points and bragging rights.

“I think there was a lot of frustration on Crusaders’ side about the way the game was going,” said Patterson.

“That’s football and it can often happen in a derby fixture. But sometimes emotions can run high in other league games as well and it can be difficult to control them.

“But clearly in a derby game passions are running high and there is a huge desire among both sets of players to win the game. There is a lot of pressure to get a result and sometimes it’s difficult not to let frustration get to you.”

Three Carling Premiership fixtures were postponed as early as Thursday due to the freezing conditions but Patterson feels it was right to give Solitude every chance to beat the weather.

“Most of the fans going to the game will be based in the north-Belfast area so they wouldn’t have to travel long distances,” he added.

“In other games that may not be the case so I feel it’s the right call to give the game every chance of making it.

“Everyone is looking forward to it and it should be a cracking game. In all the time I have been involved with Cliftonville, it’s been a very special occasion and everyone wants to come out a winner.”

Cliftonville have followed Crusaders’ example by putting down an artificial surface and, as Newry City and Ballymena United prepare to travel down that road, Patterson would encourage other clubs to consider it.

“It’s ironic that just as we put the pitch down to help us cope with colder weather, these freak conditions arrive but that’s nature,” he added.

“There’s not a lot you can do if six or seven inches of snow lands on it.

“But moving the game to the summer is not the answer as this is a part-time league and players like to take their holidays in the summer. I’m a traditionalist and I wouldn’t like to see that dramatic change.

“Players are holding down jobs and it would be unfair to switch the season.”

Meanwhile, Cliftonville's Carling Premiership fixture with Newry City, originally scheduled for Saturday, January 8, has been brought forward to Friday, January 7, with a 7.45pm kick-off at The Showgrounds.

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