Cliftonville turn to fresh faces as injury list lengthens
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville 5 Carrick Rangers 0
MICHAEL McCRUDDEN may have claimed his third hat-trick of the season as Cliftonville hit Carrick for five on Saturday, but it was a 17-year-old substitute for whom manager Paddy McLaughlin reserved the praise.
The Reds were two up within eight minutes at Solitude as McCrudden struck twice, while captain Gary Breen got on the scoresheet and McCrudden polished off his hat-trick all before half-time. In a quieter second-half, substitute Barry Coffey fired an excellent strike into the net from distance to cap off the rout.
However, it wasn't all good news for the hosts as Liam Bagnall and Aaron Donnelly were both forced to come off early and join an already lengthy Cliftonville injury list. This forced McLaughlin to turn to the likes of teenager Stephen McGuinness and, in him, the Derry man is convinced the Reds have uncovered a gem.
“That's another two who've gone off injured, which takes us up to 15 injured senior players,” the Cliftonville manager said.
“It's a horrendous injury record, but it's good to see the young players coming through and being given their chance because they deserve it. They've been here with us all season and bided their time. If they weren't good enough, they wouldn't be here.
“Odhrán Casey has come on and done well, Stephen McGuinness has just turned 17 and I thought he was superb in the second-half. He got booked early on, which I thought was a bit harsh on him, but his performance after that was top drawer.
“He played it with experience if you like – he played the situation really well, didn't get involved in any tussles or any silly tackles after his booking. He's going to be a class player for us.”
With the Irish League's top six breaking away from this weekend, McLaughlin is in a positive frame of mind for the business end of the season: “We've put ourselves in a good position going into the split and hopefully we can close in on second and third place,” he added.
“We know second definitely gets you into Europe and third is a possibility, so we're closing in on those positions and are hitting top form at the right time of year.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Crusaders sealed their own top-six spot with a 2-0 win over Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park. Paul Heatley opened the scoring for Stephen Baxter's men in the first-half, while Jordan Forsythe headed home after the break.
Glenavon kept at faint question mark over the destination of the title with a 3-2 win over Linfield at Mourneview. Colin Coates headed Glenavon into an early lead and, while Shayne Lavery quickly levelled for the Blues, Matthew Fitzpatrick restored the Lurgan side's advantage before Daniel Purkis added a decisive third with an hour to go.
Aaron Traynor and Stephen Lowry ensured that Coleraine kept the pressure on Linfield in a 2-1 win at the Ballymena Showgrounds, while Portadown beat Warrenpoint 3-1 at Milltown. On Friday night, Glentoran came from behind to beat Larne 3-2 at the Oval.