Underdog Reds can still cause a Euro upset, vows McLaughlin
Paddy McLaughlin says Cliftonville are positive about their chances of producing a huge Europa League shock tonight, but acknowledges that Haugesund are overwhelming favourites to make progress.
The Reds trail 1-0 going into the second leg of their first qualifying round tie and, buoyed by his side's performance in last week's narrow defeat at Solitude, McLaughlin is looking forward to this evening's return, when all of the pressure will be on their Norwegian hosts.
"We're going to be up against it and we're big underdogs, especially being away from home, but I know the players can't wait to go out and give it a go," he says.
"There were a lot of positives to take out of our performance last week and the only thing missing from it was a goal. We had a few chances but things just wouldn't drop for us. If we can play the same way again, as difficult as that will be away from home, then we've definitely got a chance.
"Haugesund are halfway through their season in Norway and there were stages of last week's game where you would have struggled to tell who were the full-time professionals and who were the so-called part-timers and that's another positive for us to try and build on."
Since their victory in Belfast, Haugesund have won what boss Jostein Grindhaug labelled their biggest match of the season when Tromso were thumped 5-1 on Sunday.
Two of their goals were scored by striker Ibrahima Kone - who was substituted early at Solitude after a crude challenge on Levi Ives left him at serious risk of being sent off - with Torbjorn Kallevag, dismissed for a high tackle on Conor McDermott, also on target.
With the Norwegians having seemingly put a stop-start sequence behind them just in time to welcome Cliftonville to the Haugesund Stadion, McLaughlin admits he's wary of the size of the challenge that awaits his men but has backed them to face it head on.
"Haugesund beat Coleraine in their home leg a couple of years ago and, from speaking to some people at Coleraine, they said they were one of the best teams they'd ever played," adds the Reds chief, whose team trained at the 8,754-capacity venue last night.
"We then saw how good Rosenborg were against Linfield at Windsor Park last week and, given there's only a few points between them in the Norwegian league, I was a bit apprehensive about what we would come up against and how we would deal with it, but the players did so, so well.
"It will be much tougher here. We won't have the same number of fans and Haugesund's own supporters will be expecting them to win easily, but we know we have to score if we're going to stay in the tie and that's what we'll be aiming to do."
Europa League 1st Qualifying Rd, 2nd Leg
Haugesund Stadion, Tonight, 6pm; agg 1-0