Paddy McLaughlin paid tribute to a stirring defensive effort after Cliftonville booked their place in the County Antrim Shield Final courtesy of last night’s 1-0 victory over Glentoran.
Joe Gormley lit Solitude up with an outreagous 17th minute lob that ultimately proved sufficient to send the Reds into January’s decider with Ballymena United and, while there’s no questioning the win was deserved, the team were forced to absorb some late pressure as the visitors poured forward in search of a lifeline.
“I’m delighted for the boys defensively again, they’ve been superb recently,” said McLaughlin after watching his side record yet another shut-out.
“They’re keeping clean sheets really well, so fair play to them. They deserve all the credit in the world, not just the back four and keeper – as a defensive team and as a block, we’ve been superb. We match runners and win our battles and win our headers.
“We needed to do that late in the game because Glentoran were coming at us and had nothing to lose. They were putting bodies forward so late in the game, they made a couple of subs and played a lot of players in the final third. You’ve got to give all the defensive unit all the credit they deserve.”
At the other end of the park, it was Gormley’s predatory instincts that settled the tie as the striker seized on a ball over the top to get the better of goalkeeper Elliott Morris with an inch-perfect finish that thrilled the boss into saluting a comprehensive team effort.
“We know the strikers here are as good as anybody in the division,” he added.
“They’re top players in the position and score at will and can terrorise any defence. They deserve all the praise that they get, but right now the back four are standing up and staking their claim for some of the headlines as well, which is brilliant.
“We need to be ruthless at both ends of the pitch , it’s not enough to be able to score goals and concede soft ones. The lads have proved they can be ruthless at both ends of the pitch and are getting their rewards now.”
The Reds were forced into a late change just minutes before kick-off when Conor McMenamin was slotted into the starting XI after Ruaidhri Donnelly pulled up during the warm-up, with McLaughlin revealing that it was his decision to remove the frontman from the equation.
“Ruaidhri has been brilliant for us this year, he’s played through a couple of injuries and is playing with two broken fingers in his hand and he’s been told not to play but he just keeps refusing to say no,” he explained.
“I’m almost begging him to sit out games but he’s got that much desire to play for the team and play for the Club.
“Unfortunately, he picked up a bang in the warm-up and, again, he’s looking to play through the pain barrier.
“Sometimes you have to go over his head and make the call for him. It was my decision to take him out because he wanted to play through the pain.
“He’s prepared to put his body on the line for the team but, unfortunately, we had to sit him out because if he’s picking too many injuries up, eventually it’s going to catch up with him so we had to make the choice for him.”