Cliftonville bring flawless Solitude record into County Antrim Shield clash with Linfield
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville 1 Ballymena United 0
IT’S now 12 games played, 12 games won at Solitude for Cliftonville this season following Saturday’s victory over Ballymena, and manager Paddy McLaughlin is hoping the Reds can channel that formidable form into tomorrow’s County Antrim Shield semi-final with Linfield.
Ryan Curran was the hero on Saturday as his scrappy 68th-minute goal kept Cliftonville two points clear of the Blues at the top of the Irish League table.
Ballymena were the better side in the first-half, with Luke McNicholas denying Leroy Millar and Kenny Kane, while Ryan Waide saw his effort cleared off the line by Levi Ives. However, the Reds improved after the break with Daniel Kearns hitting the woodwork before Chris Curran provided the delivery from a left-wing free-kick for Ryan Curran to slot past Jordan Williamson.
“Ballymena controlled the first-half, but it was more like us in the second-half, we started to win the ball back, win second balls,” said McLaughlin.
“The conditions were good, the pitch was good to play on, the pitch was slick, but we came out too slow. We were sloppy. But fair play to the boys, they took ownership of the information they were given at half-time and they produced a super second-half.”
The goal scorer Curran came close to adding a second when his shot struck an upright, but one proved enough for Cliftonville to maintain their 100 per cent home record ahead of tomorrow’s tantalising cup clash at Solitude between the league’s top two.
“It’s some going, some run, incredible,” McLaughlin said of his side’s home record, which has seen them score 33 and concede just six over the course of those 12 games in league and cup.
“If you are gonna do well in football, you have to make your home place a fortress and we have certainly done that so far this season. The fans have played a major part in achieving what we have. They drive the players on.
“At times, like on Saturday when we’re in a battle, a tough nip and tuck game, they can drive us over the line. They do intimidate the opposition, no doubt.”
McLaughlin is expecting another electric atmosphere at Solitude tomorrow night and wants his players to make up for their recent league defeat at Windsor Park.
“We let ourselves down in our last match with Linfield, we showed them too much respect,” he added.
“It’s important that we correct that on Tuesday night if we are to try to get to the final because winning medals and winning trophies is why we’re here. It’s important too that we play at our absolute maximum because Linfield are the defending league champions, they’re not going to be easy to beat.
“Linfield at home is always a big fixture, it’s a big fixture for everyone in this league and we’re no exception. So there’ll be a big atmosphere and a big crowd and we’re just hoping that Solitude will give us that edge again.”
Aaron Donnelly was forced to come off with a knee injury during Saturday’s victory and McLaughlin is conscious of having to balance the demands of the season with the welfare of his players.
“The boys are prepared to play through the pain barrier time and time again for this club, but it’s important we look after these boys as well,” the Derry man said.
“So maybe Tuesday night will be a chance for me to make a couple of changes and give a couple of other lads a run out.”