Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin predicts more changes to top spot before season climax

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin.
Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin.

Cliftonville opened up a three point lead at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with victory over Larne on Saturday but the manager isn't convinced they're there to stay.

The number one spot has chopped and changed throughout a tight title race so far, with Coleraine, Linfield and Crusaders all having enjoyed time at the top.

There are still only four points between first and fifth, as Coleraine, Glentoran and Linfield all trail by three with Crusaders a point further back. Glentoran are the only one of those to have avoided defeat in their last four outings.

McLaughlin isn't expecting that topsy-turvy nature to end just because his team are the ones out in front as it stands.

"Any team that's leading this division is doing really well because it's so competitive and there are so many good teams," he said.

"To be up there at the top at this stage of the season, we're delighted but there's a long way to go. It'll keep changing throughout the season from now until the end.

"(The packed Christmas schedule) is crazy but we know it happens every year and we know it's coming. It's brilliant for the supporters and you'll not hear too many of our boys complaining about it, having got nine points from nine."

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It had looked like the Reds might be frustrated by Larne on Saturday, as the Inver Park side cancelled out Joe Gormley's early opener.

However, there was no surprise when Conor McMenamin was the man to settle the scores, with his third winner in as many games.

"We always felt we could get a second with somebody of Conor's ability in our ranks," said McLaughlin. "That's three winners that he has scored in a week and he's been top drawer. He was excellent today again.

"I probably raised a few eyebrows a few weeks ago when I said Richard Brush is probably the best goalkeeper in the league but he has produced another brilliant performance. He's been doing it all season.

"The back four were superb and even when Larne did manage to breach our defence, Brushy was great. That lets the boys at the top end of the pitch go and win us the game."

Now McLaughlin has asked to players to get an early night on Tuesday, missing out on the new year celebrations before Glenavon arrive at Solitude on January 1.

After all, one defeat could be enough to see top spot change hands once again.

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