Holland making his mark
Published 20/09/2007 | 08:43
It seems that Linfield and Glentoran will forever be regarded as the 'Big Two' given their fan base and financial muscle.
However, there are signs that Cliftonville have the appetite and quality to smash that dominance - this season at least.
Eddie Patterson's side launched a brave title assault in the last campaign only to fade a little in the final straight.
But their promising performances have raised expectation levels in north Belfast and more pressure has been heaped on the players' shoulders.
The Solitude men, though, are showing no signs of wilting under that pressure.
After topping CIS Cup Group C and conquering Linfield 2-0 in the quarter-finals of the Crest Teamwear County Antrim Shield on Tuesday night, the feel-good factor is very much alive in the Cliftonville camp.
Mark Holland, who scored one of the goals which sunk the Blues this week, is leading the attack again after being asked to patrol the right-wing last season and he's relishing the chance to prove his side aren't one season wonders.
Beating Linfield in a one-off clash is one thing, but finishing ahead of them in the title race is a different challenge altogether.
No-one at Cliftonville will say they are going to deny the Blues a hat-trick a titles but they will expect to be in the title mix when the finishing line is in sight.
" Everyone is expecting us to improve on our showing last season and that puts us under pressure," said Holland.
"I can live with that pressure and I'm sure the rest of the boys can because we are travelling in the direction we want to go.
"We have already shown how strong our character, self-belief and team spirit is.
"Our form has been good but I am warning teams that someday we are going to give someone a really good tanking. When we really click we will turn on the style.
"Our confidence is high and I'd like to think we will be up there challenging for the title in the final few weeks of the season.
" You have to say Linfield and Glentoran are strong, with Linfield perhaps edging it but we are always looking to improve and progress."
Last season was a roller-coaster ride for Holland. He earned heroic status when he scored vital goals in the semi-final and final of the County Antrim Shield but then he suffered spot-kick heartache against Dungannon Swifts in the semi-finals of the Irish Cup. The CIS Cup final defeat to Glentoran was another bitter pill he had to swallow.
Now Patterson wants more goals from his star man as Holland resumes striking duties.
"I played all last season on the right but I'm moving up front again," he added.
"I prefer to play there but I don't set myself goalscoring targets. It's how we play as a team that really counts and whether we can stay united and strong.
"We don't have the financial baking Linfield or Glentoran have but I hope we can be there or thereabouts at the end."
Cliftonville last won the league in 1998 and only time will tell whether the spirit of '98 can be rekindled 10 years later.