Cliftonville need to keep the tie alive against Barry Town says manager Paddy McLaughlin
Uefa Europa League preliminary round, first leg: Barry Town v Cliftonville (tonight, 6.30pm)
WHILE Cliftonville will have played in Wales twice in the space of less than a week after tonight, manager Paddy McLaughlin expects the two games to be like night and day, both in terms of importance and style.
The Reds took on Connah’s Quay Nomads in a pre-season friendly in Broughton, Flintshire last Saturday and, tonight, will take to the pitch at the Leckwith Stadium, Cardiff for their Europa League preliminary round first leg against Barry Town.
While McLaughlin was less than enamoured with Connah’s Quay’s approach in what was supposed to be a warm-up game, what Barry Town bring to the table tonight will be a different matter, he says.
“Connah’s Quay were very aggressive, very direct, very physical which I suppose won’t do our players any harm in terms of preparation for similar games which they will have to play this season,” said McLaughlin of a game the Reds lost 1-0 in sweltering conditions before completing the round trip on the same day while, at the same time, Barry Town were in Ballyclare for a friendly against Ballymena United, which they lost 2-1.
“Plenty of players got game time, it’s about preparing the squad of 22 for the whole season, not 11 players for just the one match. There were a couple of knocks and a bit of tightness after the game, which is normal after a couple of weeks off, and we will hopefully reap the benefits of those exertions over the next week or so.
“But Barry Town have a completely different approach. They like to retain possession and try to play the game and they have a number of players who can hurt you.”
Cliftonville travelled back to Wales first thing yesterday morning and had a light training session on the Leckwith pitch last night ahead of their game against a side who finished third in last season’s Welsh Premier League, one place and six points behind Connah’s Quay.
“From the moment we landed in Bristol, to the journey to Cardiff, the treatment we have got from the club [Barry] has been first class,” added McLaughlin.
“We got our training session on the pitch tonight and it was ideal. It had been watered beforehand and the conditions were perfect, it wasn’t too dry and it wasn’t too sticky. The lads can’t wait to play on it tomorrow night now.”
While an away goal, a clean sheet or both are all best case scenarios for Cliftonville coming out of tonight’s first leg, McLaughlin insists the priority is to keep the tie competitive for the return fixture at Solitude.
“At the bare minimum, we need to ensure the tie is still alive after tonight,” said the former Institute boss.
“Our home form is very strong and, if we can take Barry Town back to Solitude with a good, noisy home crowd, then we’ll have every chance of progressing.”
McLaughlin also confirmed he has a full squad to pick from for tonight’s game.