Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin braced for challenge of old club Institute

Paddy McLaughlin joined Cliftonville from Institute at the beginning of February

Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville v Institute (today, 3pm)

FIVE games into his Cliftonville reign, manager Paddy McLaughlin comes up against his old club Institute at Solitude today.

McLaughlin joined the Reds from Inst’ at the beginning of February after spending a decade in various capacities with the club, and he admits today will be far from a run of the mill occasion.

“It’s definitely going to be a strange one, going up against a team that I was involved with for the last 10 years – as a player, as a coach and as manager, more recently ,” McLaughlin said last night.

“But that’s football, football moves fast, the way it came about it was an offer that came out of nowhere and it’s developed really quickly, so here we are going up against Institute. Nobody would’ve seen that coming six or seven weeks ago.

“I’m just glad of the opportunities they [Institute] gave me and I’m enjoying the opportunity Cliftonville have given me now to manage such a big club, but it’ll be a strange feeling.”

The last time the two sides met in the league, McLaughlin was in the opposite dugout as Institute won a frantic festive season game 6-4 at the Brandywell. If Inst’ had Cliftonville’s number that day, McLaughlin is well aware of the need for caution at Solitude today.

“They’re definitely a dangerous opponent, they’re a good footballing side and they’ve a lot of young players and a lot of enthusiasm,” he added.

“Their fitness is second to none and they’ve a lot of decent talent there. We’re not going into it expecting anything other than a tough game. If we repeat our form from the last couple of weeks, we’re more than capable of winning any game, but we’ve got to be on top of our game tomorrow to get a result, there’s no doubt about that.”

One topic of debate among fans has been the extent to which McLaughlin has shored up a leaky Cliftonville defence, with the Reds conceding just two league goals in his time in charge to date, compared to the nine shipped in January and an eye-watering 17 in December.

The new boss, however, prefers to give most of the credit to his players: “There have been some slight adjustments to how we defend, but it’s their own talent that’s coming out, it’s nothing I’ve been doing or the coaches have been doing.

“We haven’t really targeted anywhere specifically. We haven’t been hammering the boys with too many sessions, telling them how to defend because they’re already good players. There’s a lot of top talent at the club already, so we’re just encouraging them to do what they do best, get them back to enjoying their football and working hard.

“All the hard work has been done by them and they deserve the bit of credit they’re getting at the minute, but there’s still a long way to go, there’s a lot of tough games coming up, so there’s going to be a lot of hard work ahead.”

Following last weekend’s impressive win over Glenavon, the Reds are well placed to grab a European play-off position, and this is no less than McLaughlin expects.

“That was the target coming in, the opportunity was still there to challenge for a European position and, the last couple of weeks, we’ve picked up some valuable points. It puts us in with a good shot of getting into the European play-off.

“If we can keep our standards high right through to the end of the season, including the European play-off if we get there, we’ve definitely got a great chance of achieving European football for next season. But every team will fancy their chances.”

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