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Jay Donnelly is out to ramp up pressure on Crusaders

By Graham Luney

Published 19/02/2016

In hand: Jay Donnelly wants to extend the League Cup celebrations with a victory over league leaders Crusaders
In hand: Jay Donnelly wants to extend the League Cup celebrations with a victory over league leaders Crusaders

Jay Donnelly believes Cliftonville can stun Crusaders tomorrow and blow the title race wide open. The Reds trail the league leaders and champions by nine points so defeat is not an option for them on the Shore Road.

Cliftonville, who stormed to title success in 2013 and 2014, remain hungry for more championship glory but they cannot afford to let the Crues build an even more commanding lead.

Stephen Baxter's side are also seven points ahead of Linfield and have a game in hand over the Blues.

As the cliché goes, 'It's Crusaders' title to lose' but the chasing pack know they must keep their foot firmly on the accelerator.

There is little margin for error and Donnelly knows his side must produce fireworks at Seaview.

It's a game which is placed in the 'must-win' category for the visitors but the Reds, who have just won the League Cup for the fourth year in a row, will relish the chance to make Crusaders sweat.

"We've had a few setbacks in the league but the confidence is high after the League Cup win and hopefully we can stay in the title race," said Donnelly.

"This game against Crusaders is massive, it's a must-win one and I've no doubt we can do that and give our title hopes a boost.

"We still believe we can win the title.

"They will drop points in the run in and we just hope we can take advantage. It's up to us to keep the heat on and the only way we can do that is to win matches and finish strongly.

"But it's a game we simply need to win." The last time the neighbours clashed at Seaview was on Boxing Day when the spoils were shared in a four-goal thriller.

Cliftonville stormed back from a two-goal deficit to earn a point with Donnelly netting a late equaliser with a looping header.

The Reds were impressive in the festive battle and also felt they were denied a clear penalty when Billy Joe Burns slid in to dispossess Donnelly.

"Crusaders may be top but we are as good as, if not a better side than them and we can get a result this weekend," added Donnelly. "If we perform the way I know we can we can beat them."

The 20-year-old hitman has netted 14 goals this season, four behind the club's top scorer David McDaid. It's back to business for the players in the Premiership tomorrow, but they could be forgiven for partying long and hard at the weekend following their Cup final win over Ards.

"It was an historic night for the club and we were relieved to get the job done," added Donnelly. "I think we should all be very proud of what we have achieved and it's something that has never been done before.

"That tells you how hard it is and might explain the celebrations. We joined the fans in the Social Club after the game and it was a great night.

"It's four years in a row for the club and two for me. It's a special feeling but hopefully we are not finished as we all want to keep this trophy and win it for a fifth time."

Donnelly's brother Rory is impressing at Gillingham and many observers believe Jay has the talent to progress across the water.

"I'm enjoying my football here and the competition for places makes sure you lift your game," he added. "You've got to work hard and perform to keep your position in the team."

Belfast Telegraph

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