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Europa League: Cliftonville in unfamiliar role as leading men


Eddie Patterson

Eddie Patterson

Darren Kidd

Eddie Patterson

The unfamiliar surrounds of Vinkovci in north-east Croatia aren't the only alien conditions Cliftonville will face this evening.

Never before have the Reds entered the second leg of a European match with a lead to preserve but boss Eddie Patterson insists it will have no bearing on how they will approach tonight's return showdown with HNK Cibalia.

“We were going to be up against it win, lose or draw the first leg,” is his assessment.

“Any time part-time players come up against full-time opponents, it's always going to be very tough but, when you add in the fact we're away from home and will be playing in energy-sapping heat, then it makes our task all the more difficult.

“In fact, being 1-0 up in the tie could actually make it that wee bit harder for us because Cibalia know they have to score and will come at us all guns blazing.

“Their supporters will be whipped up into a frenzy and will be doing everything they can to make the stadium as intimidating as they possibly can. It's going to be a massive test for us both physically and mentally.”

Cliftonville were deserving winners of the first-leg tie and know that a draw — or potentially a single-goal defeat — would be enough to book a glamour showdown with CSKA Sofia in the next round of the Europa League, but Patterson says he will be telling his players to forget about last week's game.

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“Looking back on the first leg, the thing I want the boys to take out of it most of all is confidence. They performed well and created a little bit of history for the club by winning our first home match in Europe but, that aside, we need to put it to the back of our minds.

“Cibalia will be worked up to get their revenge and will have been stung by criticism back home for losing to a team of part-timers, so we can expect to be hit with a barrage of attacks from the very first minute.

“It could be a backs to the wall affair, but that's not how we'll be approaching it. If we can score, then they'll need three to see us off, so we'll be doing everything we can in that respect, while also being wary of our defensive responsibilities — a clean sheet guarantees our progress, but they're few and far between for Irish League teams in Europe, especially away from home.”

Patterson revelled in his tactical battle with Cibalia coach Stanko Mrsic last time out and expects his opposite number to employ some changes to his approach tonight.

“They won't be quite so defensive,” he asserts. “My players did well at holding their shape last week and it wasn't until after we scored that Cibalia really pushed forward in numbers. They looked dangerous and, backed by their own fans this time, will look to start where they left off.”

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