'They'll have to fear us': Linfield won't relish Solitude trip, says Cliftonville star McMenamin
Cliftonville hero Conor McMenamin insists champions Linfield will be fearful of tonight's crunch league game because Paddy McLaughlin's men are in such red-hot form.
McMenamin is expecting a major reaction from the Blues following their shock Irish Cup defeat to Queen's but feels the north Belfast side have what it takes to cope, adding that Cliftonville need to be winning matches like the Solitude showdown (7.45pm) if they are to go on and win the title.
Glentoran moved to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership on goal difference on Saturday but Cliftonville, who have won five in a row, will return to first place if they avoid defeat this evening while David Healy's side will storm above their Big Two rivals and the Reds to the head of the table if they triumph in north Belfast.
Former Linfield ace McMenamin, player of the month for December, has been inspirational this term in Cliftonville's quest for title glory and will be a key figure against his old club.
"They are definitely not going to play the way they did against Queen's. They will be really up for it. I know David Healy and he will be looking a reaction," said McMenamin.
"We will give them huge respect but with the game at Solitude they'll have to fear us because we are playing well, on a great run, scoring goals and not conceding many so the ball is in our court.
"To win league titles you have to beat top teams. Thankfully we have been doing that lately and hopefully can continue against Linfield."
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Expanding on the title race which sees the top five teams, including Crusaders and Coleraine, separated by just three points, McMenamin adds: “It’s brilliant and great to be part of. We are in the title race and there’s no point denying it because the table doesn’t lie.
“In a couple of weeks, though, we could be sitting fourth unless we keep delivering. We had been beating the lower teams but what is important for us is that we are starting to beat teams around us.”
McMenamin has been instrumental in that, proving the difference against the Bannsiders and Crues over Christmas, as well as striking the winner against Larne at Inver Park.
He is relishing featuring in the televised clash against the Blues.
“With the Linfield game on Sky Sports, there is no better occasion than this to go out and show what you are all about,” says the ex-Glentoran player.
“There has obviously been a lot of talk about Linfield losing to Queen’s but they are still a top, top team and have unbelievable quality in their squad so we know it is a dangerous match.
“I don’t think at Linfield things are ever as bad as they can be made out to be at times and, in my eyes, they are probably still favourites to win the league.
“They will be thinking there is no better place to turn their season around than Solitude, though we have to be going into the game fancying ourselves to win it.
“We are sitting three points clear of them and we need to kick on.
“In the last league game at Solitude, they beat us 1-0 when I thought a draw would have been a fair result. In the County Antrim Shield at Windsor, we were brilliant for 80 minutes and cruising at 2-0 up and then they got back into it before we won on penalties and in the League Cup and in the league at Windsor, they just beat us so the games have been tight.”
McMenamin credits manager McLaughlin with lifting him and the team to impressive heights.
“Paddy has boys not wanting to lose training games. I think for the first time since I’ve been at Cliftonville, you can’t skip about at training or just get through it as you will be found out,” says McMenamin. “If you are conceding goals in training, Paddy will say why are you happy with that and we’ve taken that into games. He’s a winner and now you have boys throwing themselves in front of the ball during training to keep it out of the net.
“He shouts as us when we need to be shouted at and has a great balance and everyone wants to work well with him.
“This is the best I’ve played. Going on to the pitch it’s the most confident I’ve been. When you are reading in papers that your manager says you are one of the top players in the league that gives you more belief and I’m delighted to be paying him back on the pitch.”