SEAVIEW is the venue for the next instalment of the North Belfast rivalry as Crusaders host Cliftonville under the lights and in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Monday evening (7.45pm).

The hosts  head into the derby with their title ambitions all but over, but host the Solitude outfit that is still in the race, but can ill-afford any more slip-ups in their bid to catch leaders, Larne.

The teams head into this game after contrasting results in the Irish Cup with Crusaders’ 1-0 win over Glentoran seeing them advance into a meeting with Dungannon Swifts who shocked the Reds.

A below-par display in their quarter-final clash saw the Solitude side see their hopes of bridging the 44-year gap of winning the Cup wiped out.

Manager, Paddy McLaughlin has called on his side to use the hurt in a positive manner and try to take advantage of any slip-ups from league leaders Larne as the title race draws to a conclusion in the coming weeks.

“Hopefully that is the fuse lit now for the run-in,” he said.

“We’ve nothing to lose now. We’ve still a title chase and hunt like the four or five from the top six are all within a fighting chance.

“It will be difficult to stop Larne. You can’t see them dropping too many points.

“You’ve got to stay in it for as long as you possibly can and when they slip up, you’ve got to pounce on it. feeling sorry for ourselves and letting the disappointment get you down. It will be even more than that if Larne slip up and we don’t capitalise.

“We’ve got to be prepared now for what’s left of the season: seven or eight massive, massive games and five of them at home.

“They are all going to be almost cup final mentality now because we’ve got to go from it from the off. That is how are season is balanced now.

“We’ve a title race to fight for and if we can come out with that, brilliant. If not, it will be disappointing because this group of players is there to be winning medals and they deserve to be winning trophies.

“They’ve been excellent for us for a number of years, but especially over the last two years.

“We got our rewards last year with the cup and a European place, but it would be disappointing to come away with nothing.

“We’ve got to be fully geared and fully focused on challenging and being ready to pounce on Larne for this title and I’m sure that Linfield will be thinking the same. We’ve still a lot to play for.”

Perhaps a derby fixture is the best way to put the Cup disappointment behind them although McLaughlin admits that he would have liked the game to come sooner but feels it will give the squad time to reflect on the season to date and recover from any lingering knocks.

“You want the games to come straight away because you want to get the disappointment out of our system,” McLaughlin admits. 

“We’ve to wait until Monday now and it probably gives us a bit of time to reflect and recover.

“We’ve had a couple of knocks and we lost Aaron Traynor and Luke Turner had to come off at half time with a quad injury. We had to be careful that we didn’t lose him.

“We’ve lost Levi for the season, so the couple of days rest, hopefully will freshen people up and we can reflect on where we went right until this point and where we went wrong on Saturday.

“A couple of days does us no harm, but you’d like a game to be coming around quick enough to get this out of the system.

“We’ll go home, feel sorry for ourselves, and lick our wounds for a couple of days. We’ll go back to work and then a massive game against Crusaders.”

Cliftonville’s record at Seaview is anything but impressive with just two victories in the last nine years of visiting the Shore Road venue.
McLaughlin is expecting a familiar battle when they make the short trip on Monday evening. 

“All derby games are tough,” he acknowledged.

“All games against Crusaders are tough. They’re a big physical side and their home record is very good and very strong.

“We’ve got to expect what we always get there: a tough battle and a physical battle.

“Whenever we get ourselves back on our feet and get up and running again, we’ve got to be confident in going there and putting on a performance and hopefully getting a result.”