Belfast Telegraph

Bring on blood and thunder Boxing Day derby, says Crusaders' Cushley

Leading the line: David Cushley is in sparkling form for Crusaders
Leading the line: David Cushley is in sparkling form for Crusaders

By Graham Luney

David Cushley knows Cliftonville will pack a punch in the Boxing Day showdown but his attitude is "bring it on".

Cush is in sparkling form for the Crues and he's got a real spring in his step after flooring Warrenpoint Town on Saturday.

A goal and an assist in the 3-1 victory goes some way to underlining his attacking threat and there's no doubt the former Ballymena United man is brimming with confidence.

In the absence of the injured Jordan Owens, Cushley has led from the front superbly, ably supported by Paul Heatley and Ross Clarke.

The champions accept their title defence hasn't gone swimmingly this season, but a good winter period could leave them ideally placed to challenge at the top in 2019.

Back to back wins over Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town have steadied the ship, and you can be sure that Crusaders' title rivals will not be writing them off.

Today's showdown at Solitude, however, promises to be the ultimate test and, given the firepower on display from both sides, it's not a contest that has a scoreless draw written all over it.

The Reds conceded six goals at Institute on Saturday and keeper Brian Neeson was sent off, ruling him out of this derby battle, but at least they go into the festive tussle lifted by the news that striker Joe Gormley has penned a three-year contract extension.

Cushley and his team-mates knows what to expect from their north Belfast neighbours but he's ready for anything.

"You never know what can happen in any game," he says. "Everyone will work hard to try to win it.

"Boxing Day games are blood and thunder but hopefully we will get the result. It doesn't matter what happened at the weekend, form is irrelevant in these derby games.

"The thought of Cliftonville and Crusaders will get people wound up, so you expect a tough game.

"My old team, Ballymena United, are flying and I'm not surprised. They had a good bunch of lads when I was there and they are a hard team to play against."

In recent seasons the Crues have stepped it up over the festive period, and Cushley is confident the Shore Road men can keep moving in the right direction.

"I'm feeling brilliant," he added. "At a club like this the class oozes.

"You can see the squad and understand that when chances come you must take them.

"I'm enjoying playing and trying to make the most of every minute.

"I don't know if it's the best football of my career but I'm enjoying it, and that's why I play football. I work hard and know that brings rewards. As soon as a club slips up, it doesn't matter who it is or in what league, people start talking about a crisis, but our changing room is strong and we are working hard in training.

"No-one makes a mistake on purpose and we are all aiming to keep hold of the Gibson Cup.

"We have five games in about a 14-day period and hopefully we can pick up many points. Win these games and we will stay near the top of the table."

Warrenpoint played some neat football at Seaview but the Crues ran out deserved winners.

"We did everything right, they like to play from the back but we nullified that most of the time," added Cushley.

"Sean (O'Neill) made a few smart saves but we looked comfortable in defence and attack.

"For their goal, Coatesy did well to get his toe on the end of it! It was a tough game, you know they will try to play football and fair play to them but I felt our class showed."

Looking ahead to the Reds game, Crues boss Stephen Baxter said: "We do our homework on these teams as they do on us and they are all capable teams.

"Cliftonville were a team I half tipped to win the title this season and they are a very good side who, on their day, can destroy anybody.

"They are good games to look forward to and they can go either way."

Cliftonville v Crusaders

Danske Bank Premiership

Solitude, Today, 3.00pm

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