PREMIERSHIP: Coleraine determined to battle on in title quest

Coleraine manager Oran Kearney.
Coleraine manager Oran Kearney.

Many onlookers may feel Coleraine missed a big opportunity in the title race when they were held to a draw at Crusaders on Tuesday night.

The Bannsiders were pegged back with six minutes to go at Seaview and remain two points behind the Crues in the battle for the Gibson Cup.

But boss Oran Kearney feels there will be a few more twists and turns in the title race in the remaining four league games.

“The message is very simple, there’s a huge amount of football left in this,” he said.

“To gain something as big and beautiful and prestigious as what we are chasing it isn’t handed to you on a plate.

“Sometimes you have to go through the mill and do it the ugly way, sometimes it has to go all the way to the wire.

“So it’s all about mentality at this stage, and we’re very up for it.

“I could stand here and praise the players all night, because they have been superb to a man.

“We haven’t played too many of these big, gritty games in a hostile environment over the last couple of years, but they acquitted themselves fantastically well.

“I played in a lot of games like that as a player and I told the guys beforehand that I wanted us to be involved in this game.

“I wanted us to be playing in it, and I wanted the tension and all aspects of it.

“For our lads in particular it’s brilliant, what an experience and what a learning curve it was for them.”

The Bannsiders entertain Cliftonville at The Showgrounds on Saturday in a precursor to May’s Irish Cup final.

But Kearney knows the Reds’s attention will not be on the showpiece final just yet as third place is still up for grabs.

“Every game in this top six is going to be very tough,” he said. “Cliftonville are obviously going to be buoyant after reaching the Irish Cup final.

“And the race for third place has tightened up again after Tuesday night’s results.

“They certainly won’t be coming to The Showgrounds and lying down just because they have reached the final because they will want to secure third place as well.

“It will be another big game and we have to prepare ourselves accordingly.”

The Reds find themselves two points off Glenavon in third knowing if they do manage to finish there they will also secure a place in Europe.

“Third place in the league would guarantee European football and it would take some pressure off us in the Cup final,” said Cliftonville Barry Gray.

“Regardless of what happens between now and then the players will go into the Cup final very focused on winning the cup. But a lot will happen over the last few games, but it’s a great situation for us to have.

“We all have tough games coming up, there will be ups and downs, we just hope we’re on the right side of it come the end.”

Cliftonville made it six wins from their last seven games following their 3-0 win at Ballymena on Tuesday night.

Strikers Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly have been the driving force over the past month.

Gormley netted his seventh goal in seven games in the 3-0 win, while Donnelly bagged a brace at Warden Street to take his tally to 14 for the season.

“Joe and Rory are scoring goals and the most pleasing thing is their partnership is flourishing,” added Gray.

“Strikers thrive on scoring goals, it gives them more confidence. “The penny is dropping with all the players. They have stepped up and produced performances.”