IRISH CUP: Cliftonville hunting down the one trophy that has eluded them in recent years

Cliftonvilles' Gerard Lyttle
Cliftonvilles' Gerard Lyttle

Gerard Lyttle doesn’t believe in footballing fate or lucky omens – going as far to label such mysticism as ‘nonsense’.

But as Cliftonville prepare to continue their quest for Irish Cup glory on Saturday, the Reds boss is hoping 2016 can be their year.

The last time the Solitude club lifted the blue riband trophy was back in 1979 courtesy of a 3-2 win over Portadown.

Since then they have lost three finals (1997, 2009 and 2013) and were disqualified from the 1999 showpiece after being found guilty of fielding an ineligible player in a semi-final win over Linfield.

Linfield will stand between Cliftonville and a place in the semi-finals, and Lyttle hopes his side can edge closer to wards ending 37 years or hurt.

“Maybe this is our year to win the Irish Cup,” Lyttle smiles.

“It is the only silverware that has escaped the club in recent years. We have won everything else apart from the Irish Cup.

“We managed to win at The Oval for the first time in five years on Tuesday night, so maybe our luck is changing.

“We have a good group of players and we can achieve anything.

“I don’t believe in hoodoos or bogey teams or anything like that – I think it is nonsense.

“We will just go out and face the big challenge ahead against Linfield.”

Cliftonville and Linfield harbour similar hopes as the season enters its final furlong.

While the destiny of the Premiership title may be out of their hands, the target of a top two finish – and automatic qualification for Europe – remain tangible rewards.

Both clubs also have their eyes on reaching the Irish Cup final and delivering silverware success to their respective fans.

Lyttle has already toasted such reward this season, having guided the Reds to the League Cup last month.

“The two clubs probably have similar targets for the rest of the season,” Lyttle added.

“Finishing in the top two and getting into Europe, and winning the Irish Cup.

“We have had our own targets since I took over as manager. Qualifying for Europe is obviously the top priority, and the Irish Cup is the same.

“We have already won the League Cup, and we want more. The league is out of our hands now, but there is plenty more to play for.

“We are still there and fighting away, and we will try and get as many points as we can.”

While Lyttle accepts the magnitude of tomorrow’s cup showdown, he refuses to label the tie with David Healy’s men as ‘do or die’.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” he counters.

“If we win we are into the semi-final of the Irish Cup, but it is not do or die in our season. We have a lot to play for in the remaining league games, like winning a European spot.

“Saturday is a massive game for us, a game that we will relish and look forward to. It will be a big crowd, and games like these take care of themselves.

“It is good that we won on Tuesday night, that will have given everyone a lift going into Saturday’s cup game.”

Lyttle admits he has a selection headache for tomorrow’s game.

For Tuesday’s 2-0 win against Glentoran at The Oval, the Reds had a substitutes’ bench boasting the talent of Darren Murray, Martin Donnelly, Chris Curran, Jude Winchester and James Knowles.

“Every game for me is a selection headache,” Lyttle laughs. “When you bring top players into a club, it can sometimes disrupt things and you work hard to make the right selection.

“But everyone who has come in has done fantastically well. It will take time, and I am sure there were players who were disappointed not to play against Glentoran.

“But it is up to the boys who come in to keep the jersey, and for the others to be ready when called upon and get the jersey back.

“Our bench at The Oval was phenomenal. It is great having that squad and that selection headache.”