Barry Gray takes Cliftonville into their final away fixture of 2018 tomorrow well aware of how tough Institute will make life at Brandywell Stadium.
The Reds travel to Derry on the back of three consecutive Danske Bank Premiership victories but their bid to make it two away wins on the bounce will be severely tested by Paddy McLaughlin’s side, who have settled comfortably into the top flight after winning the Bluefin Sport Championship last season.
Stute sit eighth in the table – just two points behind seventh-placed Glentoran, against whom they featured in a high-scoring draw last time out – and, though he acknowledges the traditional significance the Christmas period can have on a team’s prospects, Gray says he and his players are content with the similarly conventional adage of taking things one game at a time.
“As soon as the Ards game ended and everybody had dried off, our focus turned to Institute,” he says.
“All teams have a lot of big games in a short space of time over the next few weeks but the next one is the only one you can prepare for. Football has a habit of kicking you in the teeth if you get too far ahead of yourself and we’re just in a mindset at the moment of trying to build a good winning run.
“The last few weeks have been good, we’ve had different types of wins amid different types of challenges and Institute will be another challenge again. They’re a good team who will make things difficult for any side at The Brandywell, where a lot of teams have struggled this season.
“I haven’t been to the ground since they got the work done, but I know the pitch is expansive and it would be bigger than we are normally used to. It’s a challenge but not one we’ll shy away from. It’s about going and doing what we’re good at, Institute will do what they’re good at and we’ll have a battle to see who comes out on top.
“The players have done very well in recent games and they deserve to have that highlighted because they’ve been tested by different opponents and have come out with nine points from our three matches so far this month.
“Our away form hasn’t been as good as our home form, there’s no denying that. Beating Ards was one win, so it’s not like we’re getting carried away or anything – and, regardless of results in those last three matches, we would have been looking to get three points at The Brandywell and that’s what we’re focused on trying to achieve.”
Supporters are reminded that admission to this fixture is by ticket only and, while sales are currently available online, tickets will also be available at Brandywell Stadium ahead of the game.
Cliftonville fans will be accommodated in the Southend Stand and parking will be available at the stadium via Foyle Road.