Cliftonville brought down to earth with a bang by Linfield
Danske Bank Premiership: Linfield 2 Cliftonville 0
PADDY McLaughlin may have been named Manager of the Month for February over the weekend, but he admits his Cliftonville side and he were brought back down to earth with a bang on Saturday.
Linfield had been defeated by Glentoran in mid-week but the league leaders bounced back to inflict a late defeat on the Reds at Windsor Park. Shayne Lavery bagged both goals for the Blues, heading home from a Joel Cooper cross on 73 minutes to break the deadlock.
While Lavery wrapped the game up in injury-time, Cliftonville could have been leaving with a point had Linfield defender Mark Stafford not managed to get in a last-ditch block from a Barry Coffey strike just moments before. With this defeat coming on the back of a draw at Ballymena United last Tuesday, McLaughlin knows that any desire to rest on the laurels of an impressive February is long gone.
“The boys were super throughout February and it was nice to be rewarded for it,” said McLaughlin of his first manager of the month award at Solitude.
“I accepted it on behalf of everybody at the club because you are only as good as the people around you. But here, we’ve definitely been brought back down to earth with a bang over the last week. We actually played well against Linfield on Saturday and the final score was harsh on the players because the game was decided on fine lines. The game hinged on those three or four minutes at the end when we had the chance to equalise and then, the next thing, we were 2-0 down.”
Cliftonville have now played 24 games of their Danske Bank Premiership fixture list, which is two more than the likes of Linfield and Larne and four more than sides such as Glentoran and Glenavon. With such a punishing schedule, especially since the turn of the year, McLaughlin is in no doubt that weariness played a part in the results at the Ballymena Showgrounds and Windsor Park.
“We have played the most games of anyone since Christmas – 13 or 14 games – when in reality we should only have been playing nine,” the Derry man added.
“So fatigue and tiredness have definitely played a part over the last week. In this context, anyone who criticises our players is a fool. We have to take the hit for Saturday, but you can’t criticise them for their application and dedication when you consider that we are playing more matches than full-time teams.
“We have a lot of people who are waiting for any chance to criticise us, a lot of people who want to snipe at us, but the game on Saturday balanced on a two to three minute period. It was frustrating to trip up like that but we can’t let that dictate what we do from here on in. It could so easily have been a draw.”
While Coleraine and Linfield look set to battle it out between themselves for the title, the race for third spot and a European place is ridiculously tight, with only a point separating Larne, Glentoran, Crusaders and the Reds. With all their rivals having games in hand, Cliftonville may be considered to have the disadvantage in this battle, but McLaughlin insists the season is very much alive.
“We’ll never throw the towel in. Our target is still the top three and we have every of chance of achieving that,” he said.
“It’s a long season and things can change over a short period of time. We’re full of confidence in ourselves and, when you consider the Irish Cup is still to start, we have loads of meaningful games left to play.”