Europa League: Cliftonville look to fans
Cliftonville defender Eamonn Seydak readily admits that tonight's Europa League showdown with The New Saints is the biggest game of his career and has praised the club's board for doing their utmost to ensure as many people as possible are there to see it.
Any Irish League supporter with a 2010/11 or 2011/12 season ticket for their respective club can avail of a discount at the turnstiles as the Reds endeavour to build upon the 1-1 draw secured against their Welsh opponents in last week's first leg — and Seydak hopes local fans turn out in force.
“You have to hand it to the club, they've done everything they can to try and get a big crowd behind us,” said the 25-year-old.
“There are a lot of people who work very hard behind the scenes at Solitude and we would love to reward them by getting through to the next round.
“Every night we've been training over the last week or so, there have been fans doing little odd jobs around the ground and it gives you a great feeling of togetherness and that we're all pulling in the one direction.
“It's apparent to me that the club are committed to the local community and they're aware that, when European matches come along, they can impact on more than football and there's a social aspect to their responsibilities as well.”
Seydak believes it is not in his team mates' nature to settle for the 0-0 draw which would secure progression to the next phase and believes that, while the onus will be on the hosts to attack, TNS are a side who must be respected — especially tricky winger Craig Jones.
He added: “They are a full-time outfit who will have had a full week to size us up and will have trained probably every day, working specifically on this game.
“On the other hand, we've only had a couple of hours here and there for Tommy (Breslin) to talk us through things, so I'd say we're still very much up against it.
“Obviously we know a little bit about them and, from a personal point of view, I know what Craig Jones is capable of.
“A lot of their play seemed to come through him and it was obvious why because he's a very good player, who has plenty of pace.
“I know that if I fall asleep for a second, he'll punish me but, to be honest, the same applies to every area of the park when you're up against a full-time professional.”
Almost a year has passed since Seydak completed his switch from Institute to Cliftonville and he says he's been delighted with how the first 12 months have panned out.
“I signed on the same night that CSKA Sofia put the Reds out of Europe last summer and the buzz in the changing room was something that really stuck with me,” he said.
“One of the reasons I joined Cliftonville was because they regularly challenge at the top end of the table and have been in Europe a lot over the last few years.
“I wanted to be a part of that and it's been great to see that opportunity become a reality, but what would be better still is if we could get a win against TNS and reward everyone at the club by giving them more European nights to look forward to.”
But the Reds’ goalscoring hero from the first leg, Barry Johnston, says they are going to have to pull something out of the fire to keep their European dream alive.
“There's no doubt about it, they're a good team who are capable of coming to Solitude and winning,” he said.
“In the first leg they looked the more likely team to go on and score a second goal so we know we'll need to raise our performance levels in a big way.”
It will be the first Euro game at the north Belfast ground for 10 years and Johnston hopes the fans can inspire them to victory.
“You know what Cliftonville fans are like, there's nobody that can match them,” the 31-year-old said. “The support we got over in Wales last week was amazing but now that we're back on home soil, hopefully they will turn out in even greater numbers.
“You see it when the big games come along or we're in a cup final, there are people who come out from absolutely everywhere to support us and it would be brilliant if they had that same mentality for this match.
“Solitude has waited too long for a European match and, if everyone gives it everything they have, then we can make this a real night to remember.”