Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville determined to get Euro edge over Barry ahead of Solitude showdown: McLaughlin

 

In sight: Paddy McLaughlin is eyeing European glory
In sight: Paddy McLaughlin is eyeing European glory
Ronan Wilson

By Conor McLaughlin

Paddy McLaughlin anticipates a tight battle in the opening leg of Cliftonville's Europa League joust with Barry Town United, but believes his players are capable of setting themselves up to finish the job on home soil next week.

The Reds face the Welsh Premier League side in Cardiff this evening less than seven weeks after stamping their passports with a play-off final victory over Glentoran.

Despite the shortest of summer breaks, boss McLaughlin has been pleased with his squad's application since returning to training and insists they will approach tonight's showdown in a positive frame of mind.

"There will probably be a fair bit of sizing each other up, especially early in the match," he explains.

"We've done as much homework on Barry as we possibly can but the best way to learn about them is by playing against them and I'm sure they'll be doing something similar.

"From the moment the draw was made, I have been expecting two really tight, close-fought matches, and it's important we keep our side of that deal by working hard and doing our jobs properly.

"I don't know how much of a difference being away from home first really makes, but I'm pleased the second leg is being played at Solitude.

"If we can get a decent result in the first game, I know everyone at the club would really look forward to having such a big match back on our own patch next week.

"We have a very good record at Solitude and, with our fans behind us, we believe we can beat anybody, but there's no point thinking about that unless we do ourselves justice in the first leg."

Over the weekend, Cliftonville got an indication of what they can expect from tonight's hosts when they were beaten 1-0 by a Connah's Quay Nomads outfit that finished six points above Town last season.

At the same time, Barry were being beaten 2-1 by Ballymena United - results which further underline McLaughlin's belief that their preliminary round tie could come down to the narrowest of margins.

"I don't see there being a lot between the teams," adds McLaughlin, who includes newest signing Ronan Wilson in his travelling party.

"Unless one team has a seriously off-night, it's unlikely the tie will be over after the first leg.

"Don't get me wrong, I'd love it if we had a comfortable lead going into the second game but I think we're in for a real battle in both matches."

With Barry's Jenner Park home ineligible to host European football - due, curiously, to the fact that their synthetic pitch allows a ball to roll 0.8m further than Fifa Pro test limits allow - this evening's clash will be played at Cardiff International Sports Campus, where Cliftonville will be backed by a healthy travelling support following the club's appeal for an increased ticketing allocation.

"It's a good draw for us travel-wise," adds McLaughlin, whose team trained at the venue last night. "There's no nightmare journey or connecting flights or anything like that.

"It's as straightforward as you can get in Europe, which is great for us in terms of preparation.

"It also means we'll have a good crowd behind us, which can hopefully make a difference."

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