Irish Cup semi-final: Cliftonville have ‘all the incentive they need’ to win last-four encounter with Crusaders

Ronan Doherty, Philip Lowry and Jonny Tuffey in action during Cliftonville’s 3-1 league win over Crusaders on 26 February
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast At your place: Friday, 1 April Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live streamed video coverage on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin says his team have every incentive they need to win Friday’s Irish Cup semi-final with Crusaders at Windsor Park.

The Reds are in contention for a trophy treble, having won the League Cup, and lie four points behind Premiership leaders Linfield with a match in hand.

“It’s a derby, a cup semi-final and a chance to have a shot at qualifying for Europe,” said McLaughlin.

Cliftonville are also aiming to end a 43-year wait for an Irish Cup success.

The Solitude club have not collected the most prestigious piece of knockout silverware in Northern Ireland club football since 1979.

“You hear talk around the club about not having won the cup since 1979 but for us as a squad going into the game it is not really a big motivating factor,” explained the Reds boss.

“For the sake of the fans it would be nice to break that sequence as there have been so many talented teams at the club down the years but for one reason or another it just hasn’t happened.

“For the players and coaches, we are just focused on the tough game that lies in front of us, getting the right result on Friday night and getting into a final.”

‘We have so much more to play for’

The Reds go into the game on an impressive run of 10 straight wins in all competitions, epitomising a level of consistency this season which has surprised even the Cliftonville manager.

“We have been on a good run of form and have maintained our standards week after week and shown a high level of hunger and desire throughout,” enthused McLaughlin.

“If you had said seven months ago that we would be in the position we are in at this stage of the season I would have snapped your hand off but we are not resting on our laurels.

“We have so much more to play for so we want to keep doing what we have been doing and finish the season strongly.

“The performance levels have not surprised me but the consistency levels have been incredible. We have good players but they also have that hunger and are proud to represent the club.

“Crusaders have a squad full of quality performers but we will be up and ready for it.”

‘Cup always a big priority’

In contrast to their north Belfast rivals, Crusaders have won the cup relatively recently, overcoming Ballinamallard United in the 2019 decider.

The Crues sit fourth in the league and are set to take part in the end-of-season European play-offs if they do not secure a place in continental competition by lifting the cup.

“The cup is always a huge priority in any season but the league is your bread and butter so we have been very much focusing on making the top four as well – that has been a priority too,” explained Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter.

“We are now in the business end of the season when trophies are on the line so as regards team selection it’s about being wise and striking a balance.

“A league campaign lasts for eight months of the year, whereas in the cup you can pick up some silverware just by winning five matches. Both carry big prizes and offer opportunities to secure European football.”

Luke Turner and Ross Clarke
Cliftonville’s Luke Turner challenges for the ball with Ross Clarke of Crusaders

‘You want your players fresh’

Baxter rested a number of key players for last week’s 4-2 top-flight victory over Dungannon Swifts, making seven changes and leaving the likes of Ben Kennedy and Jordan Forsythe out of his starting XI.

Meawhile Cliftonville had their match against Portadown postponed because of under-21 international call-ups, giving them a 10-day break before the big last-four match-up.

“Cliftonville were probably happy enough to have their game called off while I brought in a few boys and blooded some younger players. You want your players fresh and all of your squad available for a game like this,” explained Baxter.

“The teams know each other well and while it may be a derby you don’t really have that scenario where one team is going to Solitude or Seaview so I don’t think the derby factor will be the big talking point.”

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