Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville won’t blow title race this time, insists Scannell

Chris Scannell has declared that Cliftonville can become Carling Premiership champions — even if he had to kerb the excitement of younger members in the Solitude squad.

The Reds hold a two-point advantage over Linfield as they lead the way in the most enthralling and exciting title race to grip local football in decades, with any one of the teams currently in the top half of the table capable of taking the title.

The impact of the post-Christmas freeze means that some teams have matches in hand over others and the table doesn’t quite give a clear picture, but the Reds know that if they win their games then the Gibson Cup will be theirs at the beginning of May.

“Two seasons ago we were top with five games to go and couldn’t buy a win after that,” said Scannell, who will lead his team into action against Ballymena United tonight.

“We’d played in Europe at the end of June the previous year, so it had been a long season for us and fatigue started to set in.

“Our squad is stronger now and although it is younger it is more experienced.

“We have won the County Antrim Shield twice in the last few years, lost in the CIS Cup final and the Irish Cup final.

“The quality is in the squad and the experience of losing the Irish Cup final, the hurt that we felt from that can drive us on.”

Reds boss Eddie Patterson has blooded a number of youngsters this season and their youthful exuberance has had to be kept in check.

“Some of the younger lads are maybe starting to believe the hype,” said Scannell.

“We’ve had to tell them to stop adding up points from games in hand, because we don’t have those points yet.”

Tonight’s game at the Ballymena Showgrounds sees former Irish League player turned referee Dessie Loughery make his return to the top flight. He dropped into intermediate football at the start of the season, but is now back in the senior game.

TONIGHT’S CARLING PREMIERSHIP FIXTURES (7.45pm): Ballymena United v Cliftonville, Coleraine v Linfield, Glentoran v Lisburn Distillery, Institute v Dungannon Swifts.

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