Belfast Telegraph

Underdogs relishing bite at the Crues, says Semple

Top man: Crusaders midfielder Gavin Whyte with Portia Long from BetMcLean after claiming
the December Player of the Month award from the Northern Ireland football writers
Top man: Crusaders midfielder Gavin Whyte with Portia Long from BetMcLean after claiming the December Player of the Month award from the Northern Ireland football writers

By Graham Luney

Maiden City captain Ryan Semple says his side are raring to go against Danske Bank Premiership big guns Crusaders after developing a real Cup pedigree this season.

The Crues are not expected to break much sweat when they wrestle with the Northern Ireland Intermediate League side in the fifth round of the Tennent's Irish Cup at Seaview but the boys from Derry are buzzing for this battle and showing no fear.

Former Derry City, Linfield and Institute ace Semple accepts that manager Stephen Baxter can select from the strongest squad of players in the country but the visitors have shown already they can pack a knockout punch this season.

City, who were only formed in 2016, lifted the Craig Memorial Cup on Boxing Day when they overcame Portstewart 2-1 in the final and the north west side have also progressed to the Intermediate League Cup decider.

This may - on paper - be a David v Goliath tussle but Crusaders will be making a big mistake if they already feel they have one foot in the last 16 of the competition.

"We deserve to be here and we are playing good football," said Semple. "The Cup form means we are playing catch-up in the league but if we catch the Crues on a bad day and produce a good performance ourselves then we can cause them problems.

"We have a good group of young players who are hungry to make an impression and we will be bringing a few bus loads along to give us vocal support. When we get the ball it's important we keep hold of it and all the lads are going to have to work very hard.

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"I think Crusaders are the team with the strongest strength in depth in the league and they are the team to beat in all competitions. We will just go there and try to enjoy the occasion, not let it pass us by.

"We've only had one Cup defeat to Dollingstown when we weren't at full strength, and confidence is high.

"There's a hectic schedule of fixtures ahead of us but hopefully another Irish Cup game too.

"We've nothing to lose in the sense they are firm favourites and expected to win comfortably.

"There's a big turnout of players for training this week and the lads are raring to go. It's a big game for the club and hopefully we can come away from it proud of our performance."

Meanwhile, Crusaders' star man Gavin Whyte has spoken of his pride after becoming only the fifth man to claim the Player of the Month gong on five occasions.

Gary Blackledge, Martin McGaughey, Glenn Ferguson and Gary Hamilton are included on that roll of honour and Whyte's sensational performances this campaign have placed him in distinguished company.

After being awarded the BetMcLean December Player of the Month prize from the Northern Ireland football writers, the winger, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on January 31, said it was a huge honour to make up the fab five.

"They all played a wee bit before my time but I've heard loads of stories about the likes of Spike (Glenn Ferguson), so to be on this same list as them is really special," said Whyte.

"My mum loves these trophies. She keeps them all in the house. She said to me, 'Go out and win me another one', so I'll give her this as a late Christmas present.

"My problem over the years has been consistency.

"This season, I wanted to get away from that and play well every week while adding more goals to my game."

• The Cliftonville v Glenavon Danske Bank Premiership fixture on Monday, January 29 will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

The Ballinamallard United v Cliftonville fixture scheduled for Saturday, January 27 has been moved forward to Friday, January 26 (kick-off 8pm).

Belfast Telegraph


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