Team performance put an end to Coleraine's unbeaten run - Paddy McLaughlin
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville 2 Coleraine 1
CLIFTONVILLE may have put a dent in Coleraine's title hopes on Saturday, but Reds manager Paddy McLaughlin is just happy it was his side which put an end to the Bannsiders' 17-game unbeaten run.
Stand-in captain Jamie Harney and Paul O'Neill put the Reds into a 2-0 lead at Solitude before Coleraine's job was made even more arduous by Eoin Bradley's 75th minute sending-off.
While Ben Doherty's converted penalty gave Coleraine hope of getting something from the game, Cliftonville were able to hold on for the three points, leaving McLaughlin delighted with a solid performance.
“I thought we were superb on Saturday and, in fairness, we had to be at that level because we were coming up against a side who were unbeaten in 17 league games,” the Derry man said.
“When you think about that, if this was a weak league it would still be a good achievement [Coleraine's unbeaten run] but when you consider how competitive this league is, it's phenomenal, but I'm delighted it was us who put an end to it.
“What was so pleasing for me about the game was that everyone turned up for us, it was a complete team performance. Sometimes you can carry one or two players, but we didn't carry a single one on Saturday.”
While McLaughlin was keen to emphasise the collective nature of Cliftonville's efforts, there were some players he couldn't avoid singling out.
“Jamie Harney, as the stand-in skipper, was excellent,” he said.
“He marshalled the backline really well and grabbed a crucial goal for us. Rory Hale and Liam Bagnall in the centre of the field dictated the game for us – I've said it before that Liam is the most underrated player in the Irish League.”
As for Coleraine, although Saturday's defeat and Linfield's win at Portadown leaves them 10 points behind the league leaders and reigning champions, McLaughlin believes Oran Kearney's men are still in with a shout of glory come the end of the season.
“I like Coleraine and I'd like to see them push Linfield every step of the way,” he said.
“Listen, there's no doubt that losing to us and then Linfield going to Portadown and winning later that night will have been a bit of a double whammy for them, but there's still a long way to go.
“The key will be not to get too down about it and try to go on another run like the one they already put together. They're certainly capable of it.”
The Reds will have little time to savour Saturday's victory as they are back in action tomorrow night against an in-form Glentoran side at Solitude. Having won four of their last five, including Saturday's 1-0 victory over Crusaders, the Glens have forced themselves into contention for at least a top three spot and McLaughlin knows his men will have their work cut out to get a result.
“The Glens and Coleraine are the two in-form sides in the league at the minute, so to have to play them back-to-back in such a short period of time is a big ask for our boys,” he said.
“But we have a group of players here who are meeting every challenge that is put in front of them and knocking them out of the way. Their desire to win is second to none and it's something they don't get enough credit for but, at the same time, that's not something that bothers us.
“The Glens are flying at the minute, Mick [McDermott] is doing an incredible job with them, so we're just going to have to produce the same again and hope it gets us a similar result.”