Cliftonville players are showing good character as Euro chase hots up: manager Paddy McLaughlin
Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Cliftonville v Coleraine (today, Solitude, 3pm)
CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin says the Reds won't always be able to play “fantasy football” and praised his players for showing good character to come back to beat Glentoran last weekend.
It was Cliftonville's fifth league win out of seven since McLaughlin took the reins six weeks ago – and it was arguably the most pleasing 90 minutes as the Reds prepare for the visit of Coleraine this afternoon, who lie three points behind their hosts in sixth place.
“I know the players' character was questioned a few times throughout the course of the season,” said McLaughlin, who replaced Barry Gray back in January.
“Last week against Glentoran there were questions asked of us at half-time when we were 1-0 down – and I think we answered them brilliantly.
“They came out in the second half and played with high energy and a high press, played some good football and scored a couple of good goals.
“We've got to do that on a regular basis – you can't produce that for just 45 minutes – to put any doubts about our character to bed.”
During his 18 months at Institute, McLaughlin earned a reputation for playing an attractive possession game and while he's continued that tradition at Solitude he will take any kind of win to give the north Belfast club every chance of qualifying for Europe between now and the end of the season.
The Reds have virtually secured a Europa League semi-final play-off berth - but they still harbour ambitions of qualifying for a final place over the next five games.
“We've a long way to go; we're only six weeks into the job, there's a lot of hard work ahead and it won't be all plain sailing or fantasy football. There will be days when we'll have to roll our sleeves up and grind out results.
“We'll try to play a nice brand of football by keeping the ball on the deck, but we're here to win games first and foremost and if you can do it by playing nice football, brilliant. If not, we can roll our sleeves up too and just battle it out like most teams seem to do in this division.”
McLaughlin added: “We've got a bit of momentum at the minute and we could put ourselves in a good position and get into the play-off final. Hopefully we can get the club into Europe for next year. That's our target but if we don't make it, it's not the end of the world. We've got a big summer ahead of us and if we pick up European football along the way it will be an added bonus for us.”
While the former Derry City central defender has been hugely impressed by the quality of the Reds squad –“players who are as good as you'll get in the division” – the new manager has also praised the talent in the club's U20 ranks.
Donal Rocks, Odhran Casey, Thomas Maguire, Dylan Whiteway and Caoimhin McConnell are among the young players on the cusp of the first team.
“One thing that has impressed me massively at the club is the quality of young players – boys coming through the U20s. We've six or seven of them training with us on a regular basis. That's something that I pride myself on is developing young players and getting them into the team.”
Danske Bank Irish Premiership stats
Cliftonville v Coleraine
ALL the vibes emanating from Solitude these days are encouraging with new boss Paddy McLaughlin's possession-based philosophy being fully embraced by the players. But it was more guts and determination that saw them fight back to beat Glentoran last weekend. Coleraine have been hit and miss for most of the season and although Solitude has been a happy hunting ground, they could struggle against their resurgent hosts.
Odds: H:13/10 D:12/5 A:13/8
Dungannon Swifts v Glentoran
THE Swifts have lost three of their last four games in the league and are the lowest scorers in the league – outside of the bottom two. New Glens manager Mick McDermott, formerly of Cliftonville and Lisburn Distillery, actually had the chance to be assistant manager of Colombia, alongside Carlos Quieroz, but decided to take the Oval reins instead.
Odds: H:6/4 D:12/5 A:7/5
Glenavon v Crusaders
AFTER sliding out of title contention, the Crues prioritised the cup competitions. They've already bagged the Co Antrim Shield and are in next month's Irish Cup final and in good form heading to Mourneview having not suffered a league defeat since February 9. Glenavon, minus assistant Paul Millar who has gone back to Glentoran, must win to keep the pressure on Crusaders who hold third spot.
Odds: H:7/4 D:9/4 A:5/4
Institute v Warrenpoint Town
THE Warrenpoint players will take some lifting after last week's Irish Cup semi-final defeat on penalties to Ballinamallard United. Stephen O'Donnell's men can be happy with their season to date and with only four points between them and seventh place Glentoran, they can still climb a few places against an erratic Institute side.
Odds: H:11/10 D:23/10 A:2/1