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Derby clash: Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew

Derby clash: Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew

Derby clash: Linfield’s Jamie Mulgrew

Skipper Jamie Mulgrew insists Linfield must be ready for the challenge regardless of which Cliftonville team turns up at Windsor Park for today's Danske Bank Premiership showdown.

Barry Gray's erratic Reds have the tendency to be sensational -or totally out of sorts.

Their woes were hyped up in midweek after being dumped out of the League Cup by Dungannon Swifts following a tense penalty shoot-out, which came hot on the heels of last weekend's league defeat by Ballymena United, a result that leaves the Reds lingering back in fifth place in the Premiership table.

Sparks usually fly when the teams meet, and this Belfast derby promises to be another blood and thunder affair.

"On their day, Cliftonville are more than capable of beating any side and have the potential of being a top team," Mulgrew said. "You only have to look at the strike force they have in Joe Gormley and the Donnelly brothers, Rory and Jay.

"But inconsistency appears to be an issue. They put together some great results and then have a dip in form. We just don't know which Cliftonville team will turn up.

"It's probably a bit like we've been like over the past few weeks. It's another big game and it's a challenge for us to maintain our push at the top end of the table. It's important to string a few wins together, similar to what Ballymena United have achieved.

"They are the perfect example of building momentum and confidence. That's our aim now... to try and go on an undefeated run."

Although the Blues have blown hot and cold themselves over the past few weeks, Mulgrew believes last week's win over Institute at the Brandywell was a confidence-booster.

"We travelled up there on the back of a few disappointing results, drawing at home with Warrenpoint Town and then losing to Coleraine," added Mulgrew.

"There was a different type of preparation last week. We had to leave Windsor Park at 8.30am because of the early kick-off. But it was great to get back on a winning track and we also played some good stuff.

"Our performance against Coleraine was really poor and really unacceptable. It's probably the worst we've played in a long time. So to go to Institute and put in a good performance, score four goals and pick up three points, was a positive reaction.

"The month of November hasn't been too kind to us over the years, so hopefully we can finish it on a high.

"The way results have panned out so far, I think it all points to another very tight league campaign. Gone are the days of any team running away with it.

"Teams are improving and getting stronger on a yearly basis. There are new, young players coming through, which is making the league stronger.

"People had stupidly written off Crusaders after they had a poor run of results. But they are now very much back in the mix.

"I always knew they had too much quality to fall by the wayside. It was a blip and they're over it. It's not a surprise to me they are now pushing up there at the top again."

Mulgrew believes a glance at the league table in January will give a fair indication of who will be genuine title contenders.

He added: "If, at the start of the season, we'd been offered the chance of being where we are at this moment in time, we would have taken it.

"Yes, we can reflect on a few poor results, but this is a very tight league and every team will drop points. We've still a lot of players out injured. Once they come back, it will make us stronger.

"Sometimes the crowd becomes edgy when things are not going to plan. I suppose expectation levels rose because we started the season so well.

"If we are still up there, around the top, after the New Year, then it will give us the platform to put in a big finish."

Linfield vs Cliftonville

Danske Bank Premiership

Windsor Park, Today, 3.00pm

Belfast Telegraph