Cliftonville have earned the right to play in limelight - Paddy McLaughlin
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville v Glentoran (tonight, 7.45pm)
LINFIELD'S victory on Saturday may have created some daylight at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership, but Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin insists tonight's game with Glentoran is far from a must win occasion.
Christy Manzinga's early strike against Ballymena United proved enough to put the Blues five points ahead of Cliftonville and six clear of Glentoran ahead of the televised clash between the league's second and third placed sides. However, with tonight's game counting as a game in hand, a win for either side would cut that lead significantly.
With the Premiership taking a break for the first round of the Irish Cup, Cliftonville haven't played a league game since their 2-0 home defeat to Crusaders on January 4, while Glentoran's last league outing was their 3-2 loss to Larne on New Year's Day. Consequently, both sides will be desperate to use tonight to begin building a head of steam again.
“It was strange not having a game on a Saturday. We came in and trained instead,” said McLaughlin.
“We had the win in the Irish Cup [5-0 v Islandmagee] but our last league outing was poor. The boys are disappointed and feeling like they let the fans down. They feel like they owe them a performance now.
“But you judge what a good result is over the course of a game. We set out to win every match but you might have to come from behind and a draw in that case might be a good result.
“The Glens have invested heavily and they have assembled a squad more than capable of winning the league, no harm to them.”
Tonight's game is the start of a massive week for Cliftonville which could determine if they remain realistic contenders for the title. On Friday, they travel to Inver Park to face fifth-placed Larne while, the following Tuesday, they host Linfield at Solitude.
“The fixture list hasn't been good to us,” added McLaughlin.
“We've a very congested run now against the top sides in the league. It's a big challenge but all games in this division are tough, from top to bottom. This period is going to be tough on the boys, but that's only one way of looking at it.
“The reason why there is a lot of attention on these games is because we have done so well this season. So they should enjoy the limelight – the demands are high because of how they have performed.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Dungannon Swifts followed up Tuesday's important win over Warrenpoint with a surprise 1-0 victory over County Antrim Shield winners Larne at Inver Park. The Swifts struck after just three minutes with Rhyss Campbell pouncing on a defensive mistake before squaring for Ryan Mayse to fire home and they held out comfortably for the rest of the game.
A Ross Clarke goal was enough to give Crusaders victory over Warrenpoint Town at Milltown, while Carrick Rangers held Glenavon 2-2 at Taylor's Avenue. Coleraine played out a scoreless draw with Portadown at Shamrock Park.