Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville overcame toughest run of fixtures to go top over Christmas, argues McLaughlin

Cliftonville 1-0 Glenavon

Cliftonville celebrate after todays game at Solitude in Belfast.
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Cliftonville celebrate after todays game at Solitude in Belfast. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

By Conor McLaughlin

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin admitted that the demanding festive fixture schedule caught up with his players– but heaped praise upon them for the 1-0 win over Glenavon that keeps them three points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership.

Thomas Maguire’s 45th minute goal proved the difference at Solitude as the Reds made it four victories from as many outings over the Christmas and New Year period.

“I think four games in 11 days would be tough on any team,” said McLaughlin.

“It’s a big ask of part-time players and, to tell the truth, we’ve not been able to train over the last couple of weeks because of how many matches we’ve been playing. We’ve just had recovery session after recovery session and I’m sure the boys are sick of the sight of ice baths – which is never a nice place to find yourself at this time of year.

“Credit to them, though, because getting 12 points from our four games justifies all the beating of the drum and how much I’ve been on top of them during that period.

“I think we had the hardest run of fixtures out of any team in the league over the last couple of weeks and to have two away games in 48 hours against Crusaders and Larne was so, so tough, but to win them both and then back it up with another three points against Glenavon speaks volumes for everybody.

“We’re delighted with that win and it’s great for wee Thomas Maguire to get his first goal for the club on such an important day.”

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It was evident from early on that the strains of those four fixtures in 11 days had taken its toll on both sets of players, with very little quality on show in a contest strewn with the cheap concession of possession right across the park.

Both goalkeepers were largely restricted to watching briefs and the first incident of note came after 17 minutes when Maguire emerged from the bench after home skipper Chris Curran was forced off with injury, with referee Evan Boyce likewise withdrawing with a hamstring complaint soon later.

It took 40 minutes for the first real opening of the tie, with Conor McMenamin exchanging passes with Joe Gormley before getting in a shot that called Jonny Tuffey into action.

That looked set to be the last action of the first-half until Maguire struck to break the deadlock. He pounced to seize upon a clever flick from Conor McMenamin and confidently slotted beyond Tuffey to claim his first goal in senior football.

The second period was, almost unbelievably, even worse than the opening 45 minutes, although home fans were on their feet to claim for a penalty when Maguire was sent tumbling by Seamus Sharkey, only for replacement ref Ben McMaster to award a free-kick on the edge of the box.

Glenavon enjoyed long spells of possession but didn’t call Reds keeper Richard Brush into anything out of the ordinary, although they did come close to a last-gasp leveller when Josh Daniels’ header whistled just wide of the mark.

“That was a big chance for us,” said exasperated visiting boss Gary Hamilton afterwards.

“That’s been the story of so many of our games this season, where we’ve had a lot of the ball but haven’t turned that into goals.

“Cliftonville probably had two chances in the whole game and scored one of them, whereas we’ve had three or four good opportunities and haven’t done enough to work their keeper.

“Sometimes when you lose 7-0 and 6-0 to the likes of Linfield and Larne, you can beat yourself up because you know you were well beaten on the day but a 1-0 loss like this is hard to take because it could have been so different and you’re gutted coming off at the end.”

CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, McDermott, Breen, Harney, C Curran (Maguire, 17 mins), R Curran, Bagnall, Doherty, Gormley (Wilson, 81 mins), McMenamin (Ives, 90 mins), A Donnelly. Unused subs: Dunne, Foster, Rocks, McCurry.

GLENAVON: Tuffey, Larmour, Burns (Harmon, 52 mins), Marron, Daniels, Marshall, McCloskey, Murray (Jenkins, 71 mins), Singleton (Beggs, 52 mins), Garrett, Sharkey. Unused subs: Doyle, Mitchell, Neill, Wearen.

REFEREE: Evan Boyce (Ben McMaster, 28 mins)

MAN OF THE MATCH: Thomas Maguire

MATCH RATING: 3/10

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