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Beverland on red alert as title rivals plot Crusaders festive downfall

By Graham Luney

Howard Beverland is no stranger to a Boxing Day derby but he admits this one will be a lot more tense than his previous domestic disputes.

The former Coleraine skipper loved the fiercely contested north-west scraps with Ballymena United but he was fighting for mere bragging rights.

At Solitude this afternoon, two sides with genuine hopes of winning the Danske Bank Premiership will go toe to toe.

Cliftonville are only six points adrift of the champions and they will be quietly confident after going on an impressive eight match unbeaten league run.

Gerard Lyttle's men will also have a point to prove after blowing a three goal lead against the Crues in the clash at Seaview in October. The Reds were coasting to victory in that contest until Jordan Owens (2), Michael Carvill and David Cushley responded in a devastating 29 minute spell.

The good news for the hosts is that Cushley is suspended for this one but Beverland still believes the Crues can rise to the challenge.

"It's my first north Belfast Boxing Day derby and I've an idea of what to expect after being involved in the derby at Seaview," says the centre-back.

"The Coleraine-Ballymena United derbies were massive games and this will be something similar but there is probably more pressure on the players in this one and expectation levels are higher because both sides are playing well and challenging at the top of the table.

"There's more at stake and these next two games are huge for us, Cliftonville and then Linfield on Saturday. They don't come tougher and if we want to be champions we know we have to deliver.

"We cannot get caught up in the occasion. We just have to do our jobs as professionally as we can. Cliftonville and Linfield will see this period as an opportunity to close the gap on us and hurt us but we have to make sure that doesn't happen.

"We have to apply ourselves in the right manner and not give them any encouragement. The teams that are desperate to beat us will bring something extra to their game and we have to match that.

"In matches like these you cannot afford to carry one player who is not on top of his game. Levels of concentration and performance need to be very high."

Beverland played in that sensational game on the Shore Road when Cushley bundled in a 94th minute winner but the feeling is that this encounter could be a lot tigher and tense.

"We will be the first ones to admit that Ciftonville produced a penomenal performance against us and we had to dig really deep and show a lot character to fight our way back from 3-0 down," he added.

"As well as Cliftonville played, we didn't start well and I suppose it was our never say die attitude that saved the day. You've got to dig in until the very end if you want to grab points.

"Our fitness levels probably told and, if we can keep putting pressure on teams, they will crack. And when we do go behind we need to stay mentally strong and not panic. The good thing for us is we have a strong squad with boys on the bench who can step in and do the job.

"I'd say Cliftonville are the in form team at the moment and perhaps the off-field issues they have had to deal with has galvanised the club and players.

"The players have stepped up the mark and they are only six points behind us.

"But we need to attack the sides and there will certainly be no defensive mindset from us, no settling for a draw, we want to win both these matches."

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