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Cliftonville have learned harsh lessons but improvement showed against Larne, says Paddy McLaughlin

Cliftonville 1-0 Larne

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Ronan Doherty's first goal for Cliftonville was enough to seal the win.

Ronan Doherty's first goal for Cliftonville was enough to seal the win.

Ronan Doherty's first goal for Cliftonville was enough to seal the win.

Paddy McLaughlin believes Cliftonville have learned from the harsh lessons of recent weeks after Ronan Doherty's strike was enough to see off Larne at Solitude yesterday.

The midfielder's first Premiership strike for the Reds put his side in command after just five minutes and, though the visitors bossed possession throughout the second half, they could not find a route to goal - much to the relief of McLaughlin, who has seen Cliftonville ship costly last-minute strikes to Crusaders, Glentoran and Portadown since the turn of the year.

"That's two clean sheets in three, but it could have been four in four if we hadn't conceded those last-minute goals against Glentoran and Portadown," he pointed out.

"We're learning but we've had to learn the hard way. I thought we saw the game out really well today and, bar (Dean) Jarvis' strike which brought an excellent save out of our keeper, I don't remember us looking likely to concede.

"For the last five minutes against the Glens and Portadown, I thought we looked a wee bit nervous and it's cost us, but I think we've used those experiences to see things out comfortably enough against Larne."

There was controversy as early as the first minute when the away side felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Ronan Hale appeared to be clipped in the head by Kris Lowe's high boot just inside the box but, if that call was debatable, there was no denying Cliftonville should have had a spot-kick of their own on 56 minutes.

A corner from Hale's elder brother, Rory, led to Albert Watson momentarily losing his bearings and clattering into Garry Breen just as the Reds defender was preparing to head the ball. Incredibly, neither referee Keith Kennedy nor his assistant Adam Jeffrey were interested.

"When you see some of the penalties other teams are getting, you're going, 'Jeez, we'd love to get one of those calls some day'," added McLaughlin.

"It looked like a penalty from where I was standing but the referee sees it differently and you have to trust his call."

Opposite number Tiernan Lynch - who saw a first-half header from Jeff Hughes ruled out for offside - was just as diplomatic about his side's early shout and said he didn't want to hide behind "excuses" following Larne's first away defeat of the season.

"We didn't get going," he admitted.

"We didn't play the football we wanted to play or do the things we had worked on.

"I'll watch the video back, we'll have a sit down on Monday and we'll look at it again."

On the nature of the game's only goal - when Graham Kelly was caught in possession before Chris Curran's low cross fell invitingly for Doherty to slam home - Lynch added: "People will jump all over that and say, 'That's what happens with Larne' but if I'm going to ask my players to get on the ball and play, I can't tell them to put their foot through it when it suits me.

"We have to take the ups with the downs."

CLIFTONVILLE: McCarey 7, Breen 7, O'Reilly 8, C Curran 7, R Curran 6, Donnelly 7, Bagnall 8, Doherty 7 (Coffey, 70 mins, 6), Hale 7, Lowe 7, O'Neill 6 (O'Connor, 86 mins, 6). Unused subs: Dunne, McCrudden, Foster, Casey, Kearns.

LARNE: Devlin 6, Kelly 7, Watson 6, Sule 7, Randall 7 (McKendry, 85 mins) 6, Hale 7, Mottley-Henry 6 (McDaid, 61 mins, 6), Cosgrove 7, Hughes 7, Jarvis 6, McMurray 6 (Herron, 67 mins, 6). Unused subs: C Mitchell, Lynch, A Mitchell, Wade-Slater.

REFEREE: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn) 5

Despite a contentious early booking, Ryan O'Reilly delivered a commanding display at the heart of the Reds' defence.

Dean Jarvis' perfectly executed volley from distance was met by a superb reaction stop from home keeper Aaron McCarey.

Both sides came away justifiably aggrieved that Keith Kennedy didn't award them a penalty.

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