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Close to the wind

Paddy McLaughlin says Cliftonville’s hard work and dedication could not be questioned in the aftermath of yesterday’s wind-ravaged draw with Ballymena United.

An otherwise unremarkable game got off to an entertaining start with Ryan Curran putting the Reds in front only for Johnny McMurray to blast the visitors level inside 15 minutes, but the contest – largely spoiled by a swirling breeze that both Managers acknowledged in their post-match surmisals – petered out into a scrappy battle that neither side did enough to win.

“It was a game we could easily have lost, especially towards the end,” says McLaughlin.

“In the final few minutes, we had to deal with a lot of set-pieces with a strong wind in our faces but we defended them very well and I think, overall, we were deserving of a point.

“It’s not a bad thing to come away disappointed with a draw against a team of Ballymena’s quality, but it was a difficult game for both teams to play. We had a few very good phases of play in the second-half but, when we were under a bit of pressure towards the end, you could see the boys working their socks off not to concede again – and that’s the sort of attitude and desire that Cliftonville supporters deserve to see from their team.”

Though the Tennent’s Irish Cup Final will ultimately decide which Play-Off permutation the Reds are faced with, McLaughlin insists his current focus is simply on ensuring his players are in the best possible shape for whatever challenge comes along.

“We keep talking about momentum and form, in terms of performances and results, but we also want to make sure everyone’s as sharp and as fit as possible for what will hopefully be two extra games at the end of the season,” he adds.

“It’s never been about just fulfilling fixtures or seeing the season out, we want to get as many points as we can to finish as high up the League as possible.”