Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville ready to make big push for the summit

 

Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin
Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin

By Alex Mills

Manager Paddy McLaughlin is happy for his fast-improving Cliftonville side to operate below the radar.

With high-flying Crusaders and Coleraine hogging the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table - and David Healy's Linfield, the current champions, gradually inching their way back following an excellent run in the Europa League - the Reds have gone about their business in a quiet, efficient manner.

Yes, they may have suffered their first two home league defeats - beaten in successive weeks by Crusaders and Linfield - since the arrival of McLaughlin back in February, but the north Belfast side are still only three points adrift of Stephen Baxter's table toppers.

In fact, only goal difference deprives the Reds of second spot. Following impressive wins against Dungannon Swifts and Institute - buoyed by the arrival of new boss Sean Connor - Cliftonville will be looking to harden their challenge this afternoon when they journey up the M2 to face David Jeffrey's Ballymena United.

"It suits us to keep plodding on and people not taking any notice," said McLaughlin.

"We will keep our heads down and work hard.

"We know it's important to stay in touch with the leaders, especially at this early stage. Everyone knows there are many strong teams in the league this season. Linfield and Crusaders are always going to be up there, while we have seen the investment made at Larne and Glentoran.

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"So, going to be a really competitive season."

McLaughlin has his team primed for another white knuckle ride at the Showgrounds.

"We know all about David Jeffrey and Ballymena United," he added. "He is one of the most successful managers in the league. I have the most respect for him and everything he does in football.

"Ballymena pushed Linfield all the way in the title race last year and they deserve all the credit for that. He has assembled a really strong squad and we know it will be a difficult afternoon."

McLaughlin will be without defender Levi Ives, who could be out for six weeks.

"Levi broke a metatarsal bone in his foot last week. It was only a couple of minutes into the game. He actually kicked Joe McCready's shin. It was no fault of either player - both were going for the ball. It was one of those little thin metatarsal bones, but it means he'll be out for six weeks, which is a blow," he said.

"We had to grind out the result last week. They (Institute) had just appointed a new manager and the players all put in a shift for him.

"There was always going to be a reaction for they (the players) were probably playing for their future. We could have made it a bit easier for ourselves because we hit the woodwork twice and missed a penalty kick."

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