Glentoran fired up for huge test
Eddie Patterson expects Glentoran to be given a rough ride at Solitude tomorrow – but not just because Cliftonville will have revenge on their minds.
The Reds will feel they owe the Glens a bloody nose after suffering Irish Cup final heartbreak back in May.
That 3-1 success was former Cliftonville boss Patterson's sweetest moment, but a very different Glentoran team will confront Tommy Breslin's men this weekend.
And although the north-Belfast side will be looking to release some of the frustration they felt in May, Patterson says he expects the champions to be out to prove they aren't one season wonders.
"I think there may be a bit of revenge coming into the thinking of Cliftonville, but I look at things differently," said the Oval chief. "The Reds are champions and that fact alone tells us we are in for a very tough game. Cliftonville are going all out to win the title again and prove their league triumph wasn't an isolated success.
"When you are champions you want to play like champions and that's what the fans expect. They have returned to the top of the table and they want to stay there.
"But we will be up for the fight. We have a young, progressive team and while some of our football has been very good I would like to see us be more clinical."
There are many survivors from the Glentoran team that overcame the Reds 3-1 in the showpiece final but their two-goal hero Andy Waterworth moved to Linfield along with Sean Ward while Colin Nixon left for Bangor and Stephen Carson returned to Coleraine.
Patterson has lost a lot of experience and with youth you will get mistakes and inconsistency.
But the Glens are like every side in the top flight – they are capable of beating anyone when they click and that includes Cliftonville.
A 3-0 defeat to Crusaders brought the players down to earth after Ards were swept aside 5-0.
However, Patterson hopes his side can boast a more potent attacking threat and there is every chance that new signing Aaron Boyd could make his first start tomorrow.
The former Linfield, Coleraine, Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery ace will be asked to deliver while Mark Miskimmin is nursing an ankle injury.
"Scoring goals could be our biggest problem," admits Patterson.
"We can play good stuff, but we need to hurt teams.
"Aaron showed some good touches when he came on against Crusaders and he has come through a reserve game.
"Mark picked up an ankle injury and Calum Birney has suffered the same fate. He will be a big loss as he has been playing well for us and his progress was recognised at international level."
Cliftonville are sitting top of the pile despite not firing on all cylinders and Patterson takes the view that the race to the finishing line will be a thrilling one.
"I can't see a team running away with it," he added.
"When you look at the other teams you can see they have bought well and they look formidable. Portadown hammered Ballinamallard which caught everyone by surprise, but teams like Dungannon and Glenavon have really improved and they are all tough to beat.
"We have lost experience, but if we could solve the goalscoring issue then we would be in a healthier position." Patterson would love to have a Liam Boyce or Joe Gormley in his panel. The deadly duo are capable of ripping teams apart in the manner Kevin Braniff and Gary Twigg did for the Ports against Ballinamallard.
But Boyce has been struggling with a leg injury and as George McMullan and Barry Johnston continue to nurse knocks, Breslin's champions are a little below par. A 'little below par' Reds team, though, will still be too strong for many sides. Gormley's goal pocketed a vital three points at Ballymena United last weekend to stop the rot – the rot being back-to-back home defeats. Reds fans would find it hard to stomach a third defeat on the spin at Solitude but Gormley is definitely the ace in their pack. Patterson knows his defence which was caught napping at set-pieces against Crusaders will need to be water-tight in the shadow of the north-Belfast Waterworks.
"Joe had a fantastic season last year and he has just carried on in the same manner," said Patterson.
"He's the sort of player you need to watch closely for the entire game. He could be quiet for 88 minutes then come up with a superb winner.
"One-on-one with a goalkeeper you would back him to score and we will need to defend well.
"Goalscorers like Joe win you trophies, but they are hard to find. We will try our best to stop him putting the ball in the net, but that's what he does best. He's a natural finisher and he's been a massive player for the Reds."