A thrilling title race will comes to a conclusion on Saturday, but Cliftonville must win and hope Linfield don’t if they are to get their hands on the Gibson Cup
NIFL Premiership: Glentoran v Cliftonville
(The Oval, Saturday, 5.30pm)
ON Saturday evening, the race for the Gibson Cup will come a conclusion and with it one of the most exciting races in years as champions Linfield and underdogs Cliftonville face their respective dates with destiny.
It will be drawn out in Belfast as Linfield host Coleraine (5.30pm kick-off) knowing that victory will secure their 56th title.
At the same time, the Reds travel to The Oval hoping to capitalise on any slip-up in South Belfast and secure the title for the first time since the late Tommy Breslin helped secure back-to-back triumphs in 2014.
Ahead of the crucial encounter, Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin stressed on the importance of his sides keeping their heads down in a tough encounter.
“It’s important we keep going and keep our heads down with a tough game going to the Oval,” he insists.
“We know how good Glentoran are and their home record is very good.
“It was a brilliant result for Coleraine (3-2 win over Glentoran on Saturday) and they go to Windsor Park with the freedom to go and express themselves as their preparations continue for the play-off game.
“You never know what can happen, it’s a big week ahead and I’m it’s brilliant for the league and a great advertisement for the league - two sides going toe to toe until the last kick of the ball. That’s the way it is, it will go to the final whistle.”
McLaughlin believes that the Blues being at home has the potential to increase pressure on the champions but praised the job that opposite contender David Healy has done at Windsor Park.
“It can also add to it and I’m sure it can add to the pressure and expectation that Linfield are under,” McLaughlin believes.
“David (Healy) has done a good job there under serious pressure and a lot of expectation.
“Playing in front of a home crowd, it can be nervy when it’s not going your way at Windsor Park - there’s no doubt about that.
“So you never know what can happen. We just have to focus on what we can do and focus on our result. If we can go and deliver then you never know what can happen across town.”
The Derry native has dismissed any notion that there is pressure on his side and is adamant they won’t let a third opportunity to capitalise slip, should it present itself on Saturday evening.
“I don’t think we’re under any pressure at all to be honest,” McLaughlin insists.
“There’s been no expectation on us from day one, we’ve upset the odds and ripped up the form book and the prediction book.
“Everybody said that we would struggle to finish in the top-six and we’re taking it to the last game of the season to win the title.
“I don’t think we’re under any pressure whatsoever. I think that people would be more shocked if we won it than they would be if Linfield lose it.
“At Linfield, the demands and expectations are there and that’s the conditions they work under and they’ve done it well over the years.
“I think if there is anyone under pressure, Linfield can’t afford to slip up again because we won’t let them off the hook a third time.”
The Reds have a few injury doubts ahead of The Oval encounter, but McLaughlin expects maximum effort regardless of which eleven take to the field.
“There was a few boys that came off from taking heavy bangs,” McLaughlin revealed after Saturday’s thrilling 3-3 draw at Crusaders.
“Big Coatesy got stitched up there, Ronan Doherty has came off with a heavy bang on the quad that he struggled with and Rory (Hale) had a tight hamstring. That happens when you’ve got the demands of the league and that this stage of the season you expect that.
“But we’ve got a good squad and good players that came on, we’ve got Chris Curran and Paul O’Neill who were excellent.
“Whatever we have to go to the Oval with, I’m sure we’ll put in what we always do - 100 per cent maximum effort and hopefully it’s enough to get us a result.”