Belfast Telegraph

Hitmen eye up silver lining in league cup final clash

By Graham Luney

Joe Gormley says there's no crisis at Cliftonville and that the Reds will silence the doom merchants.

Even though Tommy Breslin's side have grabbed the County Antrim Shield, their campaign to land a third consecutive Premiership title has proved to be a frustrating one.

Bangor were edged out in the Shield decider at Solitude and when it comes to winning silverware this Reds machine has been in fine working order.

A win in the Wasp Solutions League Cup decider against Ballymena United at Windsor Park tonight (5.30pm) will see the club win the same prize for three years running for the first time in well over 100 years.

The back-to-back league champions may not have the swagger and arrogance of previous campaigns, but they are still a side to be feared and respected.

League results have been disappointing, but ace marksman Gormley says their poor domestic form is not an accurate reflection of the quality within their ranks.

"I know we have had a few bad results, but we are still a quality side and in this together," said the Ardoyne man.

"We are just going to battle on. There has been no crisis in confidence. It's just a case of new players coming in and injuries mounting up, but we recognise we must do better.

"We train together and are still united and I firmly believe we can come back stronger.

"We are still in the race for the title. Nobody wins the league until May so there's a long way to go. We will stick together and keep fighting until the end."

Cliftonville's title charge may have hit the buffers and questions are possibly being asked about the attitude of the players, but as Gormley states, their ability cannot be questioned.

The Reds squad is packed with formidable talent, not least their goal machine who is the best in the business when it comes to finding the net.

Cliftonville have only lost five of the 78 games that Gormley has scored in over the past four seasons in all competitions. There is huge expectation on him to perform and constant talk of Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill keeping an eye on him as well as scouts from bigger clubs, but it's hard to imagine anything distracting Gormley from maintaining his stunning record in front of goal for Cliftonville.

He added: "I don't feel under pressure as there is quality throughout our team. I wouldn't change any player in our team for anyone else in the league.

"People said when Liam Boyce left I wouldn't score, but Davy McDaid has come in and helped set up many goals."

True. Seven of McDaid's 15 assists for Cliftonville this term have led to Gormley goals, according to local football statistician Marshall Gillespie.

Meanwhile, Gormley has invited young Celtic and Cliftonville fan Jay Beatty to be his special guest at tonight's final. The Armagh youngster, who has Down's Syndrome, took a penalty in front of the visiting Celtic fans during their game against Hamilton and was giving a rousing recpetion by the Hoops fans.

Joe said: " I've got to know his dad very well and I've always been keen to invite him to one of our matches and this is perfect timing. I'm delighted we have been able to do this and I watched the recpetion he got from Celtic fans. That was brilliant, unbelievable."

On the pitch, with McDaid and Gormley leading the charge and young Jay Donnelly eager to shine, the Ballymena United defence, breached too many times in the league this season, must stand up and be counted.

If they don't, things could get messy.

United can benefit from my Linfield frustration: Tipton

Matthew Tipton will be giving his all for the Ballymena United cause tonight — an opportunity he felt he was denied at Linfield.

The Welshman has the natural desire to win prizes that every player should have but there is something extra eating away at his soul.

When one journalist commented on Tipton’s injury woes at the Blues the striker was quick to hit back, showing the kind of anger and frustration that Cliftonville defenders will be introduced to in the Wasp Solutions League Cup decider.

“I wasn’t injured at Linfield, everyone thinks I was injured at Linfield!” he replied.

Tipton still feels then Linfield boss David Jeffrey didn’t give him a fair crack of the whip at Windsor Park.

When new boss Warren Feeney arrived at the international venue in May, Tipton was shown the exit door and he departed with regrets, the feeling of what might have been had Jeffrey shown more faith in him. Sky Blues boss Glenn Ferguson has given the former Wales under-21 international more opportunities to show what he can do.

As a result, Tipton has played the most minutes for the club this term with a total of 2,951.

And no doubt his Linfield frustration puts an extra spring in his step as United look to exorcise Irish Cup demons, their loss in the final to Glenavon last May still haunting them.

“I had niggles but I’m a grown man and I can play with them,” said Tipton.

“David’s (Jeffrey) policy was if you didn’t train three times a week you weren’t available for selection.

“I don’t need to train every day. I need to play matches. I went there to win things and I didn’t. My name will go down on the records as being part of a not so good Linfield team.

“I’m proud of my career and I don’t want people thinking I just wasted two years there.

“But you have six strikers there and you need to perform in training. At big clubs you must battle to get into the team.

“Glenn has managed me brilliantly and at 34-years-old I can play most games and the goals will come.”

But the footballing gods have been kind to the former Portadown striker, granting him another shot at League Cup glory.

He was in the Ports side that suffered a shock defeat to Lisburn Distillery in 2011, the Whites team boasting Glenn Ferguson, David Cushley and Gary Thompson.

He added: “Getting to finals doesn’t happen all the time, I know that from my days playing in England. In League Two you might not get to a League Cup or FA Cup final. The play-offs may be as close as we got but this is my second major final since I’ve come here and hopefully it will be a better outcome for me.

“I went to Portadown and Linfield to challenge for trophies and unfortunately it didn’t happen. I knew Glenn wasn’t going to settle for a club that was happy to drift along and not win anything, especially after what he achieved as a player.

“I still think we can do better in the league but in the cup competitions we fear no-one,” added Tipton, who has smashed in 16 goals this season.

Goalscoring isn’t a major concern for the Sky Blues but they do have defensive issues to resolve. Ferguson is on the lookout for a centre-half and they have conceded the most goals in the league this season – 61.

“Individual errors have been costing us all season,” he added. “We don’t want to moan about injuries as well but we have had a few serious breaks.”

United left-back Stephen McBride, who was an unused substitute when Crusaders lost 4-0 to Cliftonville in the 2013 final, added: “We have shown we can match Cliftonville. It’s a good time to play them, if they were winning every week they would have more confidence.

“The boys are confident and we do believe we can win it.”

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