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Forward planning is key to Cliftonville hitting their stride, says McLaughlin

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Conor McMenamin in action

Conor McMenamin in action

�INPHO/Brian Little

Conor McMenamin in action

PADDY McLaughlin admitted Cliftonville are lacking a killer instinct at the minute but backed his players to come good after booking a quarter-final berth at Rathfriland Rangers' expense.

While always on top of yesterday's sixth round encounter at Solitude, the Reds were pedestrian at times and were given a scare when Stephen Hughes pounced to draw the Amateur League minnows level after Jamie Harney had made the early breakthrough.

Within minutes of the Whites' equaliser, however, Ryan Curran had slammed in Cliftonville's second ahead of Joe Gormley putting the seal on things in injury-time to set up a last-eight joust with Dungannon Swifts.

"We're working through a bit of a rough patch at the minute," said McLaughlin.

"All teams go through spells like this, where things just aren't going our way, but I have faith in the players that they'll come out the other side of it.

"We were always in control of the game but were probably guilty of doing a bit too much in the final third.

"We'll just keep working away and I've no doubt we'll be fine because when you've got boys of the quality of Joe Gormley, Michael McCrudden, Ryan Curran, Conor McMenamin, Thomas Maguire and even the likes of young Calvin McCurry on the bench, you have to be confident in what they can do."

McLaughlin also acknowledged a degree of frustration that it took Hughes' 64th-minute equaliser to spark Cliftonville back into action.

"Our response to their goal was good but it shouldn't take something like that to give us a kick up the backside," he added.

"The players know they can be better and I think it says it all that we're in the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup, still in the league title race and we have the County Antrim Shield in the cabinet, and the boys are sitting in there disappointed with themselves."

The Reds pulled ahead on 11 minutes when Levi Ives' short corner ended with him delivering the cross from which Harney headed into the net.

Rangers keeper Jonny Parr then denied Gormley before the visitors heaved a sigh of relief when referee Steven Gregg waved away penalty appeals after Gormley appeared to have been tripped inside the box by Peter Telford.

Daryl Evans was grateful to Parr for the reaction stop that prevented him from registering a 35th-minute own goal, while Gormley, McMenamin and McCrudden all saw chances come and go at the start of the second-half.

Cliftonville would pay for those misses when Hughes got on the end of a cross from the left and, though his initial effort was kept out by Declan Dunne, he made no mistake with the follow-up.

Unfortunately for Rathfriland, their dreams of a giant-killing act lasted all of four minutes; Curran starting and finishing the move that included key passes from McCrudden and Gormley, who added some gloss to proceedings with virtually the last kick of the contest.

"I'm very proud of how we've played," said visiting boss Aaron Black.

"I've watched Cliftonville's last four games and the big thing I warned my players was how they come at you at a million miles an hour in the opening 20 minutes. We knew we had to stand up to that and I thought we competed and matched them very well.

"The big disappointment for me was our ball retention, we didn't do well enough in keeping the ball and that's a shame.

"We maybe showed Cliftonville a little bit too much respect at times but we can be very pleased with how we've conducted ourselves against a top side."

CLIFTONVILLE: Dunne 7, McDermott 7, Ives 6, Harney 7, R Curran 7, McCrudden 6, Bagnall 6, Doherty 6, Gormley 7, Maguire 5 (McMenamin, 30 mins, 6), Donnelly 6. Unused subs: Brush, C Curran, Foster, Rocks, McCurry, McKiernan.

RATHFRILAND: Parr 7, Graham 7, Evans 7, Telford 7, Scannell 7, Fitzpatrick 6, Kilmartin 7, Campbell 5 (Prentice, 63 mins, 5), Hughes 7 (Black, 77 mins, 5), Lockhart 7, Roy 6. Unused subs: Edgar, Havern.

REFEREE: Steven Gregg (Ballyclare) 4

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