Champions Crusaders and second-placed Glenavon meet up for the first time this season when Stephen Baxter’s men are the visitors to Mourneview Park tomorrow, kick-off 3pm.
Glenavon are unbeaten in the last five league games after losing the opening day game at home to Linfield while the Champions have had an uncertain start to their defence of the title, losing two out of their last five league fixtures. Despite this, 6th-placed Crues are only three points behind the Lurgan Blues, both sides having played six games.
Some pundits have suggested that the Crues have yet to come to terms with the loss of Gavin Whyte who moved to Oxford United in the summer and certainly his 24 goals and numerous assists last season played a big part in the Crues successful title chase. Baxter made a number of summer signings including striker Rory Patterson from Derry City and there is quality throughout the squad so Glenavon can expect another stern test tomorrow.
“Losing Gavin Whyte would have an effect on any team and they’ve maybe not got off to the start they were expecting to have but you can be assured that, come the end of the season, any team that finishes about Crusaders will have a good chance of winning the league,” Gary Hamilton said today. “I think they’ll get it together and they’ll cope with Gavin leaving because there’s a lot of quality throughout their squad. It’s something we always commented on last year – the starting 11 is top quality but the subs they’re bringing off the bench, the Cushleys, the Glackins, they’ve so much quality in the squad and it gives one of them the opportunity to step up to the mark and take his chance.
“We know it’s not going to be an easy game tomorrow; they’ll come and they’ll be favourites in their heads, but for us, we know that we can play as well and we’ve got off to a decent start. If we can perform to our levels that we are capable of then we can give any team in this league a game on our day and we can beat any team on our day. What we do need tomorrow is as many out of the eleven performing as possible; you can’t be carrying any passengers. In games like this everybody has to be on their game and playing at the best of their ability and putting in the maximum effort and desire that it takes to win these games.
“It’s also about taking your chances when they come along because in games like this you maybe don’t get as many chances as we’ve got in other games we’ve played this season. In the Linfield game at the start of the season we got a lot of chances and didn’t take them and we ended up paying the price for it. When those chances do come along tomorrow we need to be clinical in front of goal.
“We need everyone to stand up and be counted tomorrow and we need individuals to take the game by the scruff of the neck and have an impact on the game. The top players in any league in the world, in the big games they always perform and they always stand out and make a difference to the outcome of the game. In these big games we need someone, whether its a Sykesy, or an Andrew Mitchell, Josh Daniels, Andy Hall, whoever, we need some of these players standing up and really taking the game by the scruff of the neck and impacting on it. In these games it always takes special moments and special performances to win them and hopefully tomorrow we can get one of them.
Sammy Clingan returns to the squad tomorrow but Gary intends to continue with the same starting 11 that won 4-1 away to Institute last week. “Sammy is a great option for us off the bench if we’re in a position where his experience could be invaluable for us. The boys that have been playing have done well so we have to pay credit to them and it’s very difficult to change a team that goes away and wins 4-1.
“We need a big performance out of everybody and we need the crowd behind us tomorrow. You need them supporting the players and singing and whatever to give them that extra lift and be the extra man. I keep reiterating that it’s so vitally important when you have a young squad of players, that there’s as much positivity and support as they can give them and as many songs that they can sing and keep the atmosphere up and keep driving the players on – it can make such a big difference for young players.”
Important Notice to Parents
Parents are reminded that young children must be supervised at all times. This is particularly important when the players are completing their pre-match drills at the Crescent End.
One to Watch
Paul Heatley is another key player for Crusaders with 20 or more league goals in each of the last four seasons and has six goals in his last five appearances against Glenavon.
He opened his league account for this season last Saturday in the Crues 1-0 win against Newry City and Stephen Baxter will be hoping that this will have kick started the winger’s and his team’s season.
Head to Head
In the last ten league meetings between the sides Glenavon has won just once, an outstanding performance at Seaview last season that ended 3-2 to the visitors. Three of the games ended with the points shared and Crusaders won six. Games between the sides tend to be high scoring affairs and those last ten meetings averaged 4.2 goals per game!
Last five league games
Glenavon: W W W D W
Crusaders: D L W L W
The Glenavon Social Club sponsors tomorrow’s match and the Ball Sponsor is Bluebell Cottage in Rawdon Court Moira, which offers a wide range of high quality furniture and giftware. The Glenavon MOM Sponsor is supporter Barry Craig.
Many thanks to all our sponsors for their generous support.
Referee: Arnold Hunter, Assistants: Richard Storey, David Anderson, 4th Official: Tony Clarke