Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton is facing a fight against off-field frustration in pursuit of points from on-field form as the race for European football enters the closing weeks.
The Lurgan Blues boss has been in the spotlight across recent games following what he considers a string of decisions which have limited his side’s points return.
Linfield moved ahead of Glentoran into third spot on Saturday in the Danske Bank Premiership standings and that coveted position could ensure automatic Europa League qualification if Coleraine beat Cliftonville in next month’s Irish Cup final.
Victory for Cliftonville over Glenavon at Solitude this weekend would push the Belfast club level with Hamilton’s men on points.
“The players are only human and as much as we try to get them to focus on the pitch and not allow decisions to have a negative impact, I can understand the frustrations,” said Hamilton. “We look back over the past two games against Linfield and Crusaders and can be pleased with the performances but with the feeling that decisions went against us at key times which could have resulted in extra points.
“But we need to keep going now over the final three games as everything is still so tight and the clubs remain desperate for European football and that financial windfall.
“But I have to praise the character of the players on show to produce some really good performances despite those frustrations and the massive list of players out.
“We have had to ask guys to operate out of position but the players’ response has been really positive and now it is about turning towards Cliftonville.”
Cliftonville boss Barry Gray has steered his side to next month’s Irish Cup final and is calling for another example of that ability to secure success in high-stakes one-off fixtures.
“I said it before the Coleraine game there is going to be weeks when we’ll maybe gain ground or we’ll lose it,” said Gray following last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Coleraine. “Eventually it will come to a game when it’s all or nothing.
“The Glenavon game was always going to be like that for us.
“It’s simple if we don’t win the game then we won’t have to worry about third place, it will be gone.
“Some might suggest that it’s even too far away now, but all the teams have to play some big games still.
“It’s going to go down to the wire.
“You look at Coleraine, and I’ve said it a few times this season, they have a knack of winning football matches.
“They have it, and you’ve heard that said about Crusaders too.
“They have a knack of being able to get it over the line, now you’ve two teams very similar.
“To try and call a winner, it’s crystal ball stuff!
“I’m sure Crusaders maybe looked at our game today and thought we could maybe do something for them.
“I’ve said before I fancied us to maybe impact the games against the top two more than the other teams in the top six.
“But Glenavon have popped up today and showed they can’t be written off.
“I’m sure the north Belfast derby (April 21) will be feisty, especially if we win (v Glenavon), they are feisty enough at the best of times.
“It’s like today though, the pressure is not on us to pick up points to win leagues.”