No quarter expected as Cliftonville and Coleraine battle for Irish Cup semi-final spot
Samuel Gelston's Whiskey Irish Cup quarter-final: Cliftonville v Coleraine (tonight, Solitude, 7.45pm)
FIGHTING on three fronts, Cliftonville hope to continue their incredible winning streak until the end of the season, says manager Paddy McLaughlin.
Fresh from their 3-1 success against Crusaders in Saturday's north Belfast derby and on the crest of an eight-game unbeaten run, the Reds take on Coleraine in the first of two cup battles over the next two weekends - tonight's Irish Cup quarter-final is followed by the League Cup final on March 13.
McLaughlin's Reds have won their last five games on-the-trot and currently sit second-from-top in the Irish Premiership table just a point behind leaders Glentoran and 16 points ahead of tonight's opponents Coleraine.
Ryan Curran got both goals when the sides last met at Solitude on February 12 and since then Oran Kearney's Bannsiders have managed a win and two draws, the second of which was a 1-1 stalemate with Larne on Tuesday night.
Cliftonville had no mid-week fixture and Kearney wasn't happy with the scheduling and Reds boss McLaughlin says he can understand his opposite number's frustration.
“I wouldn't be happy with it myself, playing with a Tuesday night with such a big game on Friday,” he said.
The big games are coming thick and fast for McLaughlin's side. He says he has a fully-fit squad of 22 players all focussed on enjoying the ride and winning every game they can.
“We're looking forward to it, we're coming in on the back of a good performance and a good result against Crusaders last week,” he said.
“The boys are in good form, they're playing well and working hard and we're winning matches so it's a good time to be playing in these big games and there's a load of them coming up – they're getting bigger and bigger with every week that passes so it's a great time for our boys to be hitting top form.
“We are just enjoying the journey that we're on at the minute and the fans have been out in force for every game and they've added to the excitement, they've added to the players on the pitch and they've played a major part in it. I'm sure they're enjoying it as much as the players and we just want to keep it going until the end of the season and see where it takes us.
“We will rotate when we have to but we have a good squad and when called upon they have all done brilliantly for us so there's no problem about rotating when we need to and any time we've made changes the players who have come in have done a great job for us.”
With form excellent, confidence high and a win over Coleraine in the league behind them, Cliftonville will go into tonight's game as favourites but McLaughlin says previous results will count for nothing.
“Coleraine are a good side and they've a good manager in charge of them,” he said.
“It'll be a tough battle, it'll be hard work and we've got to be at our maximum if we want to come out on top. It's a cup game, it'll be end-to-end and we have to keep doing our job.”