Cliftonville ace Liam Boyce fires warning ahead of crucial top two showdown
Liam Boyce is rallying his Cliftonville team-mates for today's crunch Premiership clash against Linfield with the message that there is still work to do in order to save their season.
The Reds striker revealed that players and management held a crisis meeting at Solitude just 10 days ago – in the aftermath of their Irish Cup defeat to Coleraine, which came hot on the heels of losing at home to Portadown in the league.
The realisation that the defending champions could see their season fall apart within the space of a fortnight hit home immediately, as did the fear that defeat in League Cup final to Crusaders and losing to Linfield in the Premiership would bring their campaign from coming to an end before the month of February is 24 hours old.
Even though they beat the Crues last weekend, the Reds still have to complete the second leg of a two part job. That means that nothing less than beating the Blues in this afternoon's massive Solitude showdown will be enough to prevent a glorious 2012-13 season being followed by a disaster.
"When we lost to Coleraine in the Irish Cup we looked at things and said that we had two games coming up and we had to win them or our season would be over," said Boyce.
"Since then we've won the League Cup and after Ards took a point off Linfield, we now have the opportunity to cut their lead at the top to two points.
"It's amazing how quickly things can turn around in football, because that was only 10 days ago, but we have to make the most of the situation and make sure that we keep our destiny in our own hands."
While today's clash may not be a title decider, the difference between a Cliftonville victory and a win for the Reds is stark.
Linfield are unlikely to thrown away an eight-point lead, which a win would give them. If the Reds can cut the gap to just two points David Jeffrey and his players will be able to feel the presence of Tommy Breslin and co tugging at their coat tails.
And that's why taking all three points is crucial for the north-Belfast men.
"It's definitely a must win game for us," said Boyce.
"The difference between being eight points behind Linfield or only two is massive, especially when there will only be 11 games to go after this.
"Tommy Breslin pointed out to us that we went on a 10-match unbeaten run, but we only made up five points on Linfield, so I think that it would be difficult to pull back eight points."
The messages from the coaching staff seem to be getting through to the Cliftonville players, with not just Breslin motivating them.
And making history is also on the Solitude agenda.
"It's been drummed into us by Peter Murray, the assistant manager, that apart from Portadown doing it once, Linfield are the only team to have retained the league in something like 50 years," said Boyce.
"That's the challenge that has been laid down for us and we're not going to give it up."
It's been a difficult season for the Reds. The high of drawing Celtic in the Champions League and a storming start to the defence of their title faded quickly when they hit a run of indifferent form.
The desire to be considered as a great team, rather than simply a good one is back though and that meant elation felt after being the Crues in a dramatic penalty shoot-out to retain the League Cup last Saturday night was short lived.
"It was a different feeling winning the cup this year – there was no celebrating. I just went home because I was knackered," said Boyce.
"Last year we celebrated because it was a relief that we had won a trophy. There was no pressure on us, but we didn't want to be close to being the best Cliftonville team ever, we want to be the best.
"We hadn't won anything in a while, but now there is no trophy drought.
"Winning the League Cup last season gave us confidence and belief that we could win trophies.
"We've won a couple of other trophies now, but we still want more."
Whether the Reds win more or not will hinge on the scoring form of Boyce and his strike partner Joe Gormley (pictured).
The pair have hit almost 50 goals between them this season and Boyce puts that down to the relationship they have on and off the pitch.
"We're good mates, when we go on nights out we're always together and we have that connection," said Boyce.
"I have to protect him on the pitch as well because when opposition players are giving him a bit of lip he's too nice to answer them back.
"He doesn't even say anything back to our players when they get at him about not holding the ball up, but he's already a far better player than he was last season."