Wednesday promises to be a day of firsts for Cliftonville defender Marc Smyth.
As well as being granted his first involvement in the north Belfast derby when the Reds host Crusaders, he’ll also get to sample the unique atmosphere generated by fans in a jam-packed main stand at Solitude for the first time — but, more importantly, he also hopes to savour a maiden victory over their near neighbours.
“I’m looking forward to it, these big games are what it’s all about,” says the 29-year-old.
“We’re the top two teams in the league, the fans will be well up for it and I can’t see any players holding back either. It’s the perfect game for anyone to be involved in.”
An unsused substitute when Cliftonville limped to a disappointing derby defeat at Seaview earlier in the season, the former Ayr United, Partick Thistle, Airdrie and Greenock Morton defender doesn’t absolve himself of any responsbility for that loss and insists everyone of a Reds’ persuasion felt the pain associated with that setback.
“Regardless of who was or wasn’t playing that day, it was easily our worst performance of the season,” adds Smyth.
“I don’t know what the problem was, we just didn’t get going. I’m not just saying that because I wasn’t playing — we win as a team and we lose as a team, after all — but it was plain to see that we just weren’t at it down at Seaview and that was disappointing for everyone, be it players, fans, staff or whoever.
“I think we need to put a few things right from that game.
“Crusaders will remember it, too, and they’ll take confidence from it. They’ll believe they can turn us over again, but I think we’ve a point to prove.
“I know I’m certainly keen to show that Cliftonville are much, much better than we were that day.”
The Reds enter the contest boasting a six-point lead and a game in hand over their rivals at the top of the IFA Premiership and, such has been the demand for tickets, the old main stand has been specially re-opened to accommodate the extra numbers in attendance.
Tickets have been selling like festive hot-cakes in recent weeks and Cliftonville officials have been at pains to encourage fans to make their purchases as early as possible, or risk missing out on the big game.
Smyth has yet to experience a capacity crowd roaring the Reds on at Solitude but, despite having played in his fair share of high-profile encounters throughout a career in the Scottish Football League, admits to harbouring more than a little excitement as the countdown to kick-off gathers pace.
“All footballers love playing in front of big crowds and it’ll be great to have so many people behind us against Crusaders,” he says.
“I think the biggest support I’ve seen since I signed was when we played Linfield earlier in the season but, by all accounts, ticket sales have already surpassed that, so this one should be even more special.
“The atmosphere our fans produced against the Blues was fantastic and I’m hoping they’re even louder this time, because that can really help you in matches as big as this.
“Obviously it won’t be easy and it’ll be about more than just whoever has the most supporters.
“Crusaders are a good team and, if we want to win, we’re going to have to outplay them but we’ll also need to outfight them as well — and that’s where the fans can come in.
“They give players that extra wee bit of belief and confidence, which really can go a long way.
“It would be great if we could give them something to celebrate.”
l TICKETS for the home end will be available on Cliftonville’s official website until 6pm this evening and from the social club thereafter.
The social club will also host sales from 12-2pm and 7-10pm tomorrow, with any remaining tickets available from the Whitehouse from 1pm on Wednesday.
Supporters who have completed online transactions can make their collections from the Whitehouse from 1pm-2.30pm on the day of the game.