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Cliftonville aim to inject doubt at Linfield

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Tommy Breslin and Cliftonville have a stretch of 12 league games ahead

Tommy Breslin and Cliftonville have a stretch of 12 league games ahead

Tommy Breslin and Cliftonville have a stretch of 12 league games ahead

Tommy Breslin is ready to up the ante in the minds games with Linfield.

The Cliftonville manager, however, isn't about to get involved in any verbal warfare with rivals boss David Jeffrey.

Instead, after beating the Blues 1-0 on Saturday to close the gap at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership to just two points, Breslin now wants to get into Linfield's heads by taking over from them at the summit.

And the Solitude chief believes that victory over Ballymena United at the Showgrounds this evening could have a major impact in the title race, with 11 games to go.

"The win over Linfield moves us closer together. If we can go top on Tuesday night it might psychologically have more of an effect on the Blues than Saturday's result," said Breslin.

"I thought our character was outstanding against Linfield. I thought we battled hard, although we maybe weren't as sharp as the previous week against Crusaders.

"We have come through another hard game and there's a different atmosphere in the dressing room."

In the build-up to last Saturday's game, Cliftonville striker Liam Boyce spelt out how he and his team-mates had feared that defeat to the Blues would end their hopes of making a successful defence of the Premiership title.

Now, however, after losing to Portadown in the league and being knocked out of the Irish Cup by Coleraine within the space of four days last month, Breslin believes the momentum in the title race is starting to swing in his team's favour, particularly after Saturday's result.

That cup defeat, plus the club's decision not to compete in the Setanta Sports Cup, leaves Cliftonville with a clear run of 12 league games between now and the end of the season.

And with their focus simply on picking up three points every time they play, Breslin wants his players to power on and ensure that they are parading round Solitude with the Gibson Cup again at the end of April by winning them all.

"I'm absolutely delighted with the players' response after we lost to Portadown and then in the Irish Cup to Coleraine," said Breslin.

"We told them they had 12 or 13 cup finals left and we needed to see a reaction. They have raised their games.

"Hopefully our quality of play can improve as we are grinding out results.

"I'm just thankful that we have turned a corner and the title race is alive now."

Cliftonville won the title with four games to spare last season, when they beat Linfield in the first match after the split.

This time around, however, with third placed Portadown and Crusaders, in fourth, but with currently two games in hand over the Reds and Blues, still on the periphery of the race for the Gibson Cup, the points in those matches between the teams in contention could be more valuable than even before and there is every chance that a final day of destiny will decide who is crowned champions.

Breslin would much rather have last season's scenario repeat itself, but he is well aware that probably won't be the case.

"I'd prefer the title race not to go to the wire – hopefully it's over before that," he said.

"But it's good for the league and everyone involved in it that there's a bit of competition between us."

Cliftonville have Jaimie McGovern suspended for the next two games. That is likely to mean Celtic loanee Paddy McNally starting this evening beside Marc Smyth in defence.

"We have brought in Jude Winchester from Kilmarnock and Paddy McNally is back from Celtic. Stephen Garrett isn't far away from fitness so we have plenty of players there and we will just have to mix and match," said Breslin.

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