Belfast Telegraph

Reds have to show courage to topple the Crues: Gray

 

By Conor McLaughlin

Barry Gray says Cliftonville must be brave in their approach to today’s Irish Cup clash with Crusaders.

A sixth round date with the Shore Road side is a daunting enough prospect at the best of times, regardless of the fact the Crues are still reeling from their shock League Cup exit to Dungannon Swifts in midweek.

Add on top of that Cliftonville’s miserable run of north Belfast derby form and it’s clear why few expect the Reds to progress to a quarter-final berth.

Boss Gray nevertheless says he believes in his players’ ability but acknowledges that courage is just an important an attribute in what promises to be a rip-roaring Solitude showdown.

“It’s another massive game for us,” he said.

“It’s a competition that everybody wants to win, us included and that won’t change. Can we beat Crusaders? I’ve no doubt that we can but we would need to do better than we’ve done of late to get over the line.

“We’ve got to be brave enough to try and win, brave enough in how we play and what makes us good when we play and we need to do that for 90 minutes.”

Cliftonville have not got the better of Crusaders since October 2014 and have avoided defeat just once in their 13 subsequent meetings.

The Crues triumphed at Solitude on both Danske Bank Premiership and County Antrim Shield duty earlier this season before coasting to victory at Seaview on Boxing Day after a Reds performance that Gray labelled “utter crap”.

Talk of derby hoodoos and indeed Cliftonville’s ‘curse of the Irish Cup’ hold no water with the former Warrenpoint Town boss, however, as his men prepare for a vital week of action across three competitions.

“Talks of curses and things like that are for supporters to discuss,” he explained.

“As players or as a management team, once you start believing things like that, you’re giving yourself a get-out and accepting defeat before you even step onto the pitch.

“It’s going to be a tough game against Crusaders, just like it always is, and we know what’s expected of us in terms of the performance we’ll need to produce to beat them.”

The Crues go into the derby showdown nursing a BetMcLean League Cup hangover after losing their semi-final clash against Dungannon Swifts this week.

It was a painful blow and brought the Hatchetmen crashing down to earth after their County Antrim Shield success.

“Cliftonville will come at us with everything so we have to pick ourselves up and respond to that,” said boss Stephen Baxter.

“They haven’t beaten us for a while so they’ll want to put one over on us.”

Elsewhere, former Reds striker Daniel Hughes is finally set to make his debut as Dungannon Swifts aim to book their place in the quarter-finals.

Rodney McAree’s men have already reached one cup final after beating the Crues in the League Cup, and today they will be aiming to take a big step towards another.

They face Mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon in one of the standout ties from the sixth round.

Hughes, signed from Cliftonville last month, has had to wait for his first appearance because of admin issues.

But he will be in the squad for the game at Mourneview Park.

Belfast Telegraph

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