Paddy McLaughlin content with point at Coleraine ahead of trip to Larne
Danske Bank Premiership: Coleraine 0 Cliftonville 0
TWO down, one to go. While the rest will be far from a stroll for Cliftonville, tomorrow night's game at Larne will mark their third game against fellow title contenders in quick succession. And they warmed up for the clash at Inver Park with a decent scoreless draw at Coleraine on Saturday.
Manager Paddy McLaughlin was content with the point, coming as it did on the heels of the defeat at Windsor Park the week before, leaving the Reds three points clear at the top of the Irish League table.
“I'm delighted with the performance, especially after the disappointment of last week,” said the Derry man.
“We wanted to go at it from the start. We played some brilliant football on a class surface and the boys enjoyed playing on it. I thought our boys moved the ball brilliantly throughout the game.
“Coleraine improved in the second-half when they brought on big Eoin Bradley and to come away with a point and our first clean sheet on the road, we are happy enough. Both sides could argue they could have won it but a draw is a fair result. The two sides showed a lot of respect to each other as we both nullified key players.
“We've had a bad run of injuries, especially in midfield but it was good to see some light at the end of the tunnel on Saturday – we'd big [Jamie] Harney back on the bench and Paul O'Neill getting more minutes back on the pitch.”
Coleraine haven't lost a league game at Ballycastle Road since November 2020 and they were nearly ahead inside the opening minute when Luke McNicholas passed straight to Patrick Kelly only for the young Cliftonville 'keeper to recover in time to smother the ball and deny Matthew Shevlin on the rebound.
Shevlin was again denied by McNicholas when he struck from the edge of the box as half-time approached while Coleraine captain Stephen O'Donnell produced two brilliant pieces of defending to thwart Joe Gormley at the other end.
When Coleraine boss Oran Kearney sent Bradley on for Kelly the veteran striker nearly made an instant impact, clipping his effort onto the bar after Chris Gallagher had been dispossessed by Josh Carson.
The Reds could have nicked all three points as the game approached the 80 minute mark when Johnny Addis got on the end of Jamie McDonagh's corner. The defender's initial header was blocked by Lyndon Kane before 'keeper Gareth Deane showed quick reflexes to deny Addis' rebound attempt.
Tomorrow night's game at Larne will be Cliftonville's fourth league on the road in-a-row and McLaughlin is content that the Reds have held their own over a run of tough fixtures.
“Whether it's against Linfield, Coleraine or anyone else, we've definitely showed we're as good as them – none of them looked any better than ourselves,” he added.
“Now I'm not saying we're title contenders or anything like that, but we've matched the teams everyone was talking about before the season started.
“Larne are full of talent, they've a serious squad of players and, if we're to take anything out of the game, we'll have to match the levels we were at when we beat them earlier in the season.
“And it doesn't get any easier after Larne. We've Ballymena to face on Saturday and then two cup semi-finals coming up, so it's going to be all hands to the pump.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, defending champions Linfield followed up last week's win over the league leaders with a 3-0 victory at Glenavon thanks to three first-half goals, two from Christy Manzinga and another from Ahmad Salam.
Second-half goals from Jude Winchester and Paul McElroy saw Ballymena United deservedly beat Crusaders 2-0 at the Showgrounds, while Warrenpoint ended a 12-game losing streak at Carrick thanks to a brace of goals from Luke Wade Slater.
Larne played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with Portadown at Shamrock Park. Adam Salley twice put the home side ahead, but Ronan Hale and Davy McDaid both netted to rescue a point for Tiernan Lynch's men.
On Friday night, Glentoran moved up to second in the table thanks to a 3-0 win over Dungannon Swifts at the Oval.