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Cliftonville are fired up to deal with Bannsiders' backlash

By Conor McLaughlin

Published 02/12/2016

On the up: Gerard Lyttle has warned his players they must be at their best to keep moving in the right direction
On the up: Gerard Lyttle has warned his players they must be at their best to keep moving in the right direction

Gerard Lyttle wasn't exactly jumping for joy when he heard that Coleraine had slipped up at Carrick Rangers last weekend.

The Cliftonville boss was already expecting a tough assignment against the Bannsiders this evening but, with their hosts now harbouring a wounded animal mentality, Lyttle is determined that his players won't be victims of a backlash at The Showgrounds.

"Coleraine don't lose too often and, when they do, they generally hit back," says Lyttle.

"They have been in good form since pretty much the start of the season. They've had the odd blip here and there, just like every team does, but they tend to react well and produce a good performance and result in their next match.

"That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone because they have a talented squad with a lot of energetic young players in it, but there are a few older heads in there who obviously make sure everybody's right back on form when things don't go their way.

"It was always going to be a difficult match up there and the pitch is never the best, but the fact that Coleraine lost last week will probably make things that bit more tricky for us."

The Reds have pocketed 13 points from their last five Danske Bank Premiership outings and scored a rare win over Coleraine when Oran Kearney's men visited Solitude back in mid-September.

On that occasion, a dominant Bannsiders did everything but score before being hit with a sucker punch from Daniel Hughes and, wary of the Reds' less than impressive record against the men from the Ballycastle Road in recent years, Lyttle acknowledges that a big performance is required of his men tonight.

"We have been doing quite well lately but it's always about the next challenge," he adds.

"Against Ballinamallard and Linfield, the boys kept battling away and got their rewards with late winners right at the end. That's the sign of a team with real character about it and a serious will to win.

"We had to be sharp at both ends of the pitch against Ballymena last week because they made us work really hard for our win but, again, we fought for everything and eventually came away with the points.

"We need that same mentality and spirit against Coleraine because they're always well drilled and they play good football."

Victory for the Reds would establish an eight-point buffer over their hosts and would, temporarily at least, lift the north Belfast side into second place above Linfield, who are not in action until tomorrow.

Satisfied though he would be with that brief psychological boost, Lyttle insists his only focus is on maintaining his side's encouraging form.

"We just want to be in and around the top sides for now," he says.

"Things were a bit up and down for us for a while and we'd been unable to find any kind of consistency but things have settled down recently and we just want to continue along that path.

"If a win takes us up to second then so be it, but that's not our motivation. We're happy enough to fly under the radar and just keep picking up as many points as we can for now.

"There are a lot of very good teams bunched together just below the top two sides, so we need to keep working hard to try and lift ourselves away from there and then see where it takes us," he adds.

Fixtures to come Friday (7.45pm): Ards v Ballinamallard United (8pm), Coleraine v Cliftonville, Glenavon v Dungannon Swifts; Saturday (3pm): Ballymena United v Portadown, Crusaders v Glentoran, Linfield v Carrick Rangers.

Belfast Telegraph

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