Belfast Telegraph

I'll have no divided loyalties, insists Paddy McLaughlin

New colours: Paddy McLaughlin faces his former club tomorrow
New colours: Paddy McLaughlin faces his former club tomorrow

By Alex Mills

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin admits sentiment will not be an issue when he comes up against his former employers Institute at Solitude tomorrow.

Having spent 10 years with the north west club which culminated in him masterminding their return to the Danske Bank Premiership, McLaughlin is looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces when 'Stute roll into town, even though he jokingly promised to thwart their journey before it even starts.

The Reds approach the game in good shape having racked up three wins in four starts since McLaughlin replaced Barry Gray at the start of last month.

The new Cliftonville chief insists he'll have his team focused on picking up another three points, totally divorcing any personal issues.

"There will be no sentiment on show, that's for sure," he quipped. "I'll probably let down the tyres on the bus before they leave.

"It will be strange. I was there for 10 years at all levels - as player, coach and manager.

"There will be a lot of handshakes and back slaps but, once the game starts, there will be no sentiment. You know the old saying, there are no friends in football once the whistle goes."

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McLaughlin takes pride in the fact that the Reds have conceded only two goals - both against Ballymena United - since he took over.

"Being an old school defender, I've told the boys to take pride in clean sheets," he added.

"It's important we are solid at the back. We are going with a system, playing three at the back which has worked well. It seems to suit the players we have.

"Our three centre-backs are really physically strong boys, who can play as well. It would be a sin to leave one of them out the way they are playing. And we add in the two wing-backs.

"Of course, it all depends on the opposition. That will not always be the case because there are times we'll have to revert to a back four or even back five.

"So far, it has worked well. It's a case if it's not broken, it doesn't need fixed.

"It was important to pick up three points at Lurgan, but the big bonus was we did it with a clean sheet.

"We had to show great patience. I suppose the scoreline (2-0) looked comfortable enough but that wasn't the case. Both sides cancelled each other out."

With Joe Gormley, Rory Donnelly and Ryan Curran up front, the Reds are always a threat going forward.

McLaughlin added: "We know we have the boys up front to score goals.

"We don't target any specific area in training because I know they are all good players. We've good defenders, excellent midfielders and we have top of the range strikers.

"When they are all on top of their game, we are as good as any side in the league.

"Yes, we've put in a few defensive shifts since I came in, but we haven't been bombarding them with anything special. It's their own quality that is coming out at the minute."

The Reds are now only three points adrift of fourth-placed Glenavon in the Premiership table.

McLaughlin admits it's vital the Reds finish above the Lurgan Blues as it would earn them crucial home advantage in the end-of-season European play-offs.

"It's important to get points on the board," he added.

"Our target is to finish up the table as high as possible, our target is a European play-off place and any advantage would be bonus.

"If it means to finish in fourth place to get home advantage, that's what we must aim for."

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