Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Cliftonville's strikers will deliver, says Smyth

Goal machine: Guy Bates can slam the brakes on Cliftonville's title assault

Marc Smyth has identified Guy Bates as being the biggest threat to Cliftonville but he's backing the Reds' own goal machines, Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley, to light up Mourneview Park tomorrow.

The centre-back will be focused on silencing Bates, Gary Hamilton and David Rainey but the Lurgan Blues will have their own headaches to beat in the shape of Solitude's twin terrors.

Smyth feels the champions' bandwagon is beginning to gather pace but he's not in the mood to under-estimate any side – particularly Hamilton's men who, with 21 goals, are the league's highest scorers along with Portadown.

And former Newcastle United youngster Bates is the big dangerman for Tommy Breslin's side. The 27-year-old has already found the net on seven occasions this season and Smyth knows all about the sharp-shooting skills of the former Drogheda United goal-getter.

"Glenavon went out and spent a bit of money and now have a much stronger squad," said Smyth. "Guy Bates and Mark Patton are a real handful when they play together.

"I think Bates is one of the best finishers in the league. I played against him last season and he's technically very good.

"We don't under-estimate anyone, especially strikers of that quality. David Rainey has three goals and he's a real livewire up front as well."

What you won't find in the Irish League is a Cliftonville player who is prepared to exchange Boyce or Gormley for a finisher from a rival team.

The Reds' front two are the best in the business and the Glenavon defence, with William Murphy and Gareth McKeown at its heart, will expect a busy afternoon at Mourneview.

"I always believe that our boys Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley are better than anyone and they take the pressure off us at the back by scoring," added Edinburgh man Smyth.

"Against Glentoran we were 2-0 ahead and in the driving seat but they got a goal back which makes you think again. Then the boys up front step it up a gear and finish the game off.

"We are always going to concede goals but Liam and Joe can really hurt sides.

"They have a great understanding and they are greedy too – they aren't happy when they miss a chance and they want to make amends.

"They are natural goalscorers and I've no doubt they could make a career in the professional game with the right training.

"It's difficult to step up to another level in football. You get less time and space to cause teams problems but that's something the boys could learn in the full-time game.

"I'd never knock Irish League football but you are talking about a higher standard across the water."

Glenavon and Portadown have both made impressive starts to the season and a home win would lift the Lurgan Blues over the Reds and into top spot if Ronnie McFall's men fail to beat Crusaders at Seaview.

There's been a mid-Ulster revival which has brought a refreshing new look to the league but Smyth (pictured), who played for several clubs including Ayr United, Partick Thistle and Airdrie United during an extensive career in Scotland, still views Linfield as their biggest threat.

"We have won three league games in a row now and injured players are regaining fitness so I feel things are coming together," he added. "While we won't under-estimate all the sides that are doing well Linfield have a very strong squad and I was looking at the names in their Swifts team and those guys would walk into another Irish League team.

"They are a club that also needs success after what happened last season and they have added quality.

"But we will keep going about our business and I'm confident we can win the title again. The players believe we can do it and hopefully we can go on a consistent run now. Mourneview is a ground we have enjoyed some success at and hopefully that trend continues."

Smyth's love affair with football in this part of the world moved to another level when he featured for the Northern Ireland under-16 and under-18 sides. The 30-year-old joined the Reds in June last year and his centre-back partnership with Jaimie McGovern was a key piece in Cliftonville's title-winning jigsaw.

One man who didn't feel a part of that title triumph was club captain Chris Scannell but the legendary striker has returned to action after a long spell in the treatment room and he was back in the goal-scoring routine in a friendly against Larne on Wednesday night.

"I've never suffered a long term injury so I can't begin to think what Chris Scannell has went through," added Smyth.

"He's been out for a year and a half which is a real nightmare and it must have been really hard for him to see us lift the title, knowing he could have been involved.

"But Chris returning to the side will give the boys a big lift. He's our club captain and he has all our respect."

The return of George McMullan and Barry Johnston has added to Breslin's options but Smyth knows the road ahead is full of bumps.

"Teams are having a real go at us because we are champions but we expected that," he added.

"If I was a manager I would expect my players to be up for every game but that's not our concern. I think people are forgetting that we got off to a disappointing start last season but we are now in a better position."

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