Paddy McLaughlin wants people to sit up and take notice of his in-form Cliftonville
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville 1 Larne 0
CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin has said a push for a top-three finish is nothing less than Reds fans expect following their win over title challengers Larne.
Ronan Doherty scored the only goal of the game at Solitude on Saturday – his first in the league for Cliftonville – as the Reds put a dent in Larne’s hopes of dethroning Linfield at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.
The midfielder struck after just five minutes when Chris Curran dispossessed Graham Kelly on the edge of the Larne box, and while the Reds skipper was unable to find Rory Hale in the middle, a failed clearance allowed Doherty to drive his first-time effort past Conor Devlin.
“There are four or five teams in the division who are effectively full-time, but the fact that we are not in that group of teams doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse,” said McLaughlin, whose side are fifth in table, four points behind Crusaders in third.
“Finishing in the top three is, in fairness, no less than the supporters and the club demands and we are fighting hard to live up to those expectations, even though it means outperforming two or three of those full-time teams.
“Getting one of those European places is crucial to the club in terms of the opportunities it provides and the resources it can present us with.”
Although Ryan Curran, Aaron Donnelly and Rory Hale all went close and they had a penalty appeal turned down in the second-half after Garry Breen was brought down in the box by Albert Watson, Cliftonville also had some solid defending to thank for their win.
“We were very good, especially in the first-half. We used the breeze to our advantage and came out of the blocks quickly,” added McLaughlin.
“In the second-half, we had the wind in our face and we found it a lot harder to create chances. But our two centre-halves were superb in how they protected our goal – they never missed a header or a tackle.”
Cliftonville had a frantic January in the transfer market, with no less than seven players joining the squad. There was always a danger that such an influx of new blood into a team mid-season could prove disruptive but the signs are that McLaughlin is handling the transition well.
“All of our January signings have come in and taken the new surroundings in their stride,” the Derry man said.
“Barry Coffey came over from Celtic and he’s still finding his feet, but he’s been excellent. Daniel Kearns has been one of the best players in Ireland over the last 10 years and he’s shown that in the short time he’s been here.
“Kris Lowe has probably been the pick of them, which has maybe surprised some people. He has played in two or three positions already and he has excelled in all of them. Paul O’Neill has stacks of potential and he will be an important player for us. All seven of them have hit the ground running.”
Saturday’s result means Cliftonville have lost just one out of nine in the Danske Bank Premiership since the turn of the year and, although there have been some frustrating draws in that time, McLaughlin believes his players are on the right track.
“We’ve learnt some harsh lessons in recent weeks, with the draw at Portadown and the defeat at the Oval, but the loss to Glentoran was our only one this year and nobody really mentions that,” he said.
“In that time, we’ve beat Linfield, we’ve now beat Larne, the two major title contenders. We went to Coleraine and got a good draw, the draw with Crusaders everyone says we should have won.
“I think after Saturday people will now sit and up and take a bit of notice and we’ll be delighted if they do because the boys deserve it. But we know we can’t control what people do or don’t say about us.”
Cliftonville are back in Irish League action tomorrow night when they travel to play a struggling Ballymena United. Larne will attempt to get their title challenge back on track at Portadown, who had their weekend clash with Dungannon Swifts called off due to the state of the Shamrock Park pitch.