Give kids a break, implores Cliftonville defender Marc Smyth
Cliftonville defender Marc Smyth has insisted he will continue to defend the club from unfair criticism because young players need shielded from constant negative attacks.
The Reds have suffered a winter of discontent, slipping seven points behind league leaders Crusaders and they need a lift as they go into tonight's County Antrim Shield decider against Bangor at Solitude (7.45pm).
Tommy Breslin's side are going for three titles in-a-row, but five points out of a possible 18, combined with a growing injury list, has sparked concern in the stands.
Smyth hit back at one supporter on Twitter after he made the bold claim that Breslin should be sacked and he remains concerned that young players' confidence could be dented.
"You are always going to get one person who wants to have a go," said centre-back Smyth.
"Fans are entitled to have an opinion, but I'm always worried about the impact some criticism can have on younger players like Tomas Cosgrove and Jude Winchester who are in their first season here.
"If players get constant criticism it can affect them and it's easy for people to sit behind a computer and take aim. Criticism, though, is a feature of the game and that's why we need to be mentally strong as players. You don't expect a pat on the back all the time, particularly after a defeat."
Smyth maintains Cliftonville are a family club and the Red Army are keeping the faith.
"In truth, any critics don't bother us," added former Ayr United, Patrick Thistle, Airdrie United and Greenock Morton man Smyth.
"Our fans are brilliant and I've never heard them boo the team. It could be argued that in some of the lower profile matches this season the games have been lacking in atmosphere, but that will happen and it's up to the players to give the supporters something to shout about.
"When a team starts winning things pressure and expectation grows, but I don't see how this season is a travesty as we are in two finals and I still believe we can go on and win the league.
"In many ways it's a compliment to us that they (the fans) expect the team to be performing so well week in week out. They know what we are capable of.
"I think our supporters understands that over three seasons you are going to have difficult spells, but I still believe we will win trophies this season and a win tonight against Bangor could be the springboard for bigger prizes ahead.
"But in fairness I think other clubs' players are under more pressure than us. I've been to Windsor Park and I've heard how demanding the Blues fans are.
"If Warren Feeney brings a few top names in this month they will be expected to maintain their title assault while the Crues have brought experienced players in and will be expected to hold onto top spot."
Breslin doesn't get carried away on a wave of euphoria when success comes his way so criticism isn't going to ruffle his feathers eiher.
Smyth added: "The great thing about Tommy is that he doesn't change his demeanour too much and that's a good trait for a manager.
"Through the good and bad times Tommy stays the same which is the best approach.
"The reality is that we have been badly hit by injuries with myself, Stevie Garrett, Chris Curran, Barry Johnston and George McMullan receiving treatment and we also lost Liam Boyce.
"Overall, we have been without a lot of creative talent and while our defensive stats are good we haven't been putting teams away like we used to. I think it would help if we got some arrogance back. We used to have that inner belief. We knew how good we are and we need to get that back."
The Seasiders will look to inflict more pain on the Reds tonight but Smyth is confident the Solitude boys can rise to the occasion.
"I've a lot of respect for Bangor and their manager Garth Scates who suffered immense personal tragedy when he lost his wife Lesley in a car accident in 2013," added Smyth.
"After what he has been through, their achievements are remarkable. This is a final and anything can happen.
"They have beaten the Crues twice and Glentoran before, but if we show our ability and play with real determination I'm confident we can win or first trophy of the season."
Coleraine have placed striker Gary Browne on the transfer list. Boss Oran Kearney said: "Gary is out of contract in the summer and isn't going to be part of what we are building for the future."
Co Antrim Shield Final: Bangor v Cliftonville, Solitude, 7.45pm.