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Cliftonville can stay red hot as tests get bigger, warns boss Paddy McLaughlin


Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin after League Cup win

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin after League Cup win

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin after League Cup win

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin has no concerns that his side could be hitting peak form too early ahead of what he describes as their biggest game of the season yet.

They take on Crusaders for a place in the Irish Cup final, aiming to move a step nearer to ending a 43-year wait to lift the trophy.

The Reds have won 10 games in a row and are unbeaten in all competitions since mid-January. They lifted the League Cup earlier this month and are pushing hard at the top of the table.

McLaughlin feels the bigger the game, the bigger the performance his side produce - and feels their excellent form can last the distance.

“We don’t look too far down the line, we don’t get too carried away, and we just keep knocking the games off as they come,” he said.

“I’m not sure that we’re peaking too soon - we’ve been in this kind of form for two or three months and it’s only recently that people are starting to take notice.

“It hasn’t been a bad thing that we have floated under the radar a bit up to this point.”

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Cliftonville have had 10 days to prepare for the semi-final after their game against Portadown last weekend was called off due to international call-ups, and McLaughlin feels the break came at just the right time.

“We had a well-earned rest with the international break and I was delighted to have it because we had a few sore bodies and a few tired legs,” he added.

“The break came at a good time for us and it gives us an extra few days’ rest and will freshen us up going into such a tough game in the semi-final.

“Now we can get ready for what is a massive game on Friday night.”

Cliftonville have won the Irish Cup eight times - but not since 1979. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1909 for their last triumph.

Now they stand just 90 minutes from another final, their first since losing the 2018 decider against Coleraine.

McLaughlin feels his side are ready for the challenge, adding: “The bigger the games this season, the better the performances from our players, and that will be the biggest game of the season up until this point.

“It is all set up - Crusaders in a cup semi-final on Friday night. It will be a brilliant setting and a big crowd will be at it. Our supporters have come out in big numbers all through the season and have given us that extra bit of motivation, so now it is up to us to go and perform.

“We know we have players who can step up on the big occasion, we know we are in good form, and hopefully that continues on Friday night..

It is the start of a huge nine days for Cliftonville, who face Portadown in the league on Tuesday night. If they win that, they will move to within a point of Linfield, ahead of the sides’ clash at Solitude next Saturday evening.

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