Belfast Telegraph

McLaughlin salutes Reds' robust defence

Standing firm: Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin is thrilled
Standing firm: Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin is thrilled

By Alex Mills

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin believes his team have developed into a mean machine.

Although ace predators Joe Gormley and Ruaidhri Donnelly are regular headline grabbers, McLaughlin insists his side's recent success has been built on a solid defensive foundation.

The Reds enjoyed their 13th clean sheet of the season in the midweek County Antrim Shield semi-final win over Glentoran. Gormley's first-half strike was enough to earn them a place in the final against Ballymena United on January 21.

"We know the strikers here (at the club) are as good as any in the league. Joe again demonstrated what he was about with his winning goal against the Glens," said McLaughlin.

"There are few better front players in my opinion. The boys can score at will and they are capable of terrorising any defence.

"They deserve all the praise they get, but I believe our back four also deserve some headlines because they have been brilliant.

"It's important to be ruthless at both ends and they are now getting their rewards for it.

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"Defensively, the boys have really been superb. They are piling up the clean sheets and they are playing really well."

McLaughlin's plans for the Shield semi-final received a late blow with Donnelly picking up an injury in the warm-up, but the striker should be fit for today's league outing against Larne at Inver Park.

"Ruaidhri has been brilliant for us this season," added McLaughlin. "He has two broken fingers and he has been told not to play, but he keeps refusing.

"I am almost begging him to sit out certain games, but he is not interested. He has got so much desire to play for the team.

"It was just an impact injury, he took a bang in the warm-up. We probably could have taken a chance with him, but it could have also escalated the problem. That's why I made the call.

"Hopefully, Ruaidhri will be available for the Larne game."

Although the Reds are flying high at the top, McLaughlin is expecting another tight, cagey affair in east Antrim.

"It's good to be top, I'd rather be up there looking down than the other way around," he said. "It's a competitive league. There are so many teams that could take over top spot any week. We are just delighted to be up there with them. A lot can happen and a lot will happen over the coming months, so we are not getting too carried away.

"Larne are a good side. They have a good surface. The two teams like to get the ball down and play a bit of football, so it will be an entertaining game.

"It will be another tough ask for us. There are no easy games in this league, there are no easy points. We saw that last week when Warrenpoint beat Coleraine.

"They had been flying all year and Warrenpoint picked up their first win in a while, which no one saw coming.

"Every game is tough, and Saturday will be no different against a good Larne side."

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