IT’S joint-top against second at Solitude tonight as Cliftonville aim to remain a step ahead of Linfield in the title race (7.45pm, live on BBC iPlayer).

The North Belfast side is currently level on points with Larne at the top of the pile and with the Inver Park side not in action this evening, it means Paddy McLaughlin’s side can go clear at the top of the pile.

In what is turning into a thrilling title race with a host of contenders, every point is precious but a victory over The Blues would prove to be a huge statement of intent of their ambitions.

Likewise, David Healy’s side have the chance to leapfrog the top two tonight with a victory and hit the front having recovered from a tricky spell earlier in the season where they were quite a way off the top.

It makes for a fascinating battle and Reds’ manager Paddy McLaughlin is hopeful the extra day of rest his side received following Friday’s Irish Cup win over Dundela will stand to them, but is anticipating a tough test against the defending champions.

“The extra day's rest will help us with playing on Friday night,” he said. 

“Hopefully we’ve rested and recovered, and we’re prepared for another massive game and a big three points against our rivals and one of the title contenders up there. They are flying at the minute and David has done a brilliant job over the last few weeks and months. 

“One or two people might have been foolish enough to think that they gave themselves too much to do, but I think anybody within the game knew rightly that Linfield are always going to come strong, and they’ve proved that. 

“We’ve to try and knock them out of their stride, they are the form team at the minute with the run of results that they’re on. Our home form has been excellent and it’s up to us to try and knock them out of their stride and to try and stay in the leading pack for as long as we can and see what happens.”

It will be a full house in North Belfast tonight with the live TV cameras also in attendance, so it ought to be a great occasion on what could be a pivotal clash in the race for the Gibson Cup.

The Cliftonville boss has called for the home support to make it another occasion to remember.  

“The ‘Red Army’ have a big part to play in that - they’ve done that down the last couple of months and even last season,” he acknowledged. 

“The big occasions and the big nights they played their part and it’s important that they understand that and it’s important that they come out on Tuesday night and play their part again. 

“The players have to give the fans that energy that they thrive off. When you put the two of them together, there are special nights at Solitude and hopefully Tuesday night is another one.”

Ahead of this evening’s encounter, Levi Ives is a doubt after picking up a knock in Friday evening's cup win over Dundela

The left-back has been monitored in the days since and the Reds’ boss is hopeful he will be fit to play his part.

Elsewhere, McLaughlin poured cold water on speculation linking 17-year-old prodigy Sean Moore with a move away during the January transfer window and also hinted that Joe Gormley could sign a new contract in the coming days. 

“I’ve no doubt that Sean will be a Cliftonville player at the end of the window,” he confirmed.

“I know there is a lot of attention and rightly so. He’s one of the most exciting up-and-coming young players that the Irish League has seen for many years. There is going to be attention on him, interest in him and there’s going to be excitement building on him. He’s done a brilliant job for our team and our club over the last couple of months. 

“If we lose that, we’re losing a key player and that’s one thing that we don’t do here. We don’t lose key players unless there is an unbelievable bid that is going to blow the socks off everybody at Cliftonville. I don’t imagine that coming our way and we don’t encourage it either. He has a key role to play, like they all do, from here until the end of the season.”