Belfast Telegraph

Gerard Lyttle hopes Cliftonville can take inspiration from Celtic horror show

By Graham Luney

Passionate Celtic fan Gerard Lyttle feels the Hoops' heartbreak in Gibraltar is a timely reminder that the underdog can produce a fierce bite and he now hopes his Cliftonville side can shock AEK Larnaca in the Europa League.

The first clash kicks off at Solitude tonight (7.45pm) and even though the Reds' confidence is high after Differdange were swept aside in the first qualifying round, the north Belfast side are not expected to spring another surprise.

But if 2016 has taught us anything it has shed light on football's unpredictable nature and every manager is taking heart from the courageous performances of Leicester City in the Premier League and Iceland at Euro 2016.

Even Northern Ireland performed heroics by progressing to the last 16 stage in France while unfancied Wales made it to the semi-finals.

Ulsterman Brendan Rodgers' first competitive game in charge of Celtic failed to go according to plan when Gibraltar part-timers Lincoln Red Imps won the first leg 1-0 and Lyttle derives some hope from his old club's woes.

"After everything that has happened this year we should believe that anything can happen in football," said Lyttle. "When teams adopt a professional attitude and work very hard then they can reap rewards.

"Look at Leicester City, Iceland and now what happened to Celtic. They are a massive club and there to be shot at. It was freak result and they will still go through. I have plenty of sympathy for Brendan. He's one of the best managers in the world and I was delighted he got the job.

"I'm a huge fan of Celtic and spent five years there, playing for the youth team and reserves. Brendan is the right man for that job and he will prove it.

"But teams are vulnerable when their opponents refuse to show respect and play with real commitment. Our boys have been superb since we have come into training early this summer."

He added: "We all recognise this game is a step up in standard but we go into it with belief we can hurt them.

"We have been playing really well up to now and hopefully the tie will still be alive when we head to Cyprus. We've got to keep it tight and take our opportunities.

"So far we have represented the club, the supporters and our league very well and we want that to continue." The Reds will go into battle without midfielder Ryan Catney who is suspended while Martin Murray is on holiday. After a 3-1 aggregate triumph over Differdange the players are hungry for more joy on the continent and it's crucial that a composed and disciplined performance is served up at Solitude. AEK Larnaca boast an annual budget of €3m, placing them in a different financial league to the Reds, but they will need more than bulging wallets to get past Lyttle's men.

"There is a strong Spanish contingent in their playing staff and management and they are very well organised and experienced, operating a 4-2-3-1 formation," added Lyttle.

"Their defence is very experienced but we can be hard to beat ourselves and if we play to our strengths at home we can get a positive result.

"We will go out and have a go. Hopefully the wind blows and the rain comes down and they don't like it!

"The financial rewards for doing well in Europe are important for the club because to go two years without European football would have been a disaster for us. The club has got to plan for the future and you need finances while never being complacent."

• Glenavon starlet Joel Cooper could be on the move to Bristol City with a trial being considered for the player.

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