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Football: RED ED'S STAYING CALM IN STORM; JJB SPORTS PREMIERSHIP Poor start no concern Cliftonville v Dungannon S.

CLIFTONVILLE boss Eddie Patterson is refusing to press the panic button - even though the Reds find themselves near the foot of the table with just three points from a possible 12.

The Solitude club, tipped as title contenders at the start of the season, have lost three of their opening four league fixtures.

They lie 10th in the table, just one point ahead of Ballymena United who are enduring one of their worst ever starts to a campaign, and three points above Glenavon who have a game in hand.

It's fair to say Patterson would have preferred a less ignominious start to the season - but the Cliftonville manager insists there is a lot more to come from his side.

He is also confident the Reds will start climbing the table once he gets a number of key players back from injury.

Barry Johnston, Vincent Sweeney, Ronan Scannell, Kieran O'Connor and Francis Murphy have all been missing for varying lengths of time during the early part of the campaign.

"I don't like making excuses but our early season has been badly disrupted on a number of fronts," said Patterson.

"We have been hit by injuries, both long term and short term to key personnel, and it hasn't helped.

"It's OK being without one or two players here and there but when you are talking a handful of players who would walk into most other teams, it is going to have an effect.

"We'd like to be higher in the table at this stage but we're not panicking. This is the first poor run of form we've had in two or three seasons, so I'm keeping things in perspective.

"I don't doubt the character in my squad and I know we can bounce back sooner rather than later. We have to dig in and show a bit of resolve to get back in contention at the right end of the table.

"We are starting to get a few players back and that should help us."

Key midfielder Barry Johnston, who has been missing with a groin injury since the end of last season, is nearing a return after playing reserve team football and featuring in Cliftonville's 2-1 extra-time win over Donegal Celtic in the quarter-finals of the County Antrim Shield on Tuesday.

Patterson hopes his players show the same fighting instincts displayed against DC when they face Dungannon Swifts at Celtic Park this afternoon.

"We dug in and showed a lot of character against DC and we have to continue doing that," he said.

"It is early days but it's important we start picking up points and climbing the table. Dungannon are just above us in the table and in the same part of the league as ourselves, Ballymena and Glenavon.

"There are a few good teams down there but it's up to us to start moving up the league. That's what we're focused on."

Patterson may include midfielder Johnston and striker Sweeney, who has recovered from a long term knee injury, in his panel but defender Ronan Scannell (thigh) and winger Fra Murphy (Achilles) are still rated doubtful.

Defender Declan O'Hara is suspended after being sent off against DC in the Shield quarters.

CAPTION(S):

FITNESS RACE Barry Johnston, left, and Vincent Sweeney may return for Reds; STAYING UPBEAT Eddie Patterson has endured a torrid start to season but is confident of turning it all around
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 13, 2008
Words:565
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