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No lion down

Paddy McLaughlin says his squad demonstrated they have “the heart of a lion” after ending their Christmas Derby hoodoo yesterday.

Though Cliftonville emerged from Seaview with all three St Stephen’s Day points for the first time in a decade, the afternoon got off to a disastrous start when, for the second year in a row, David Cushley fired Crusaders ahead inside the opening two minutes.

Conor McMenamin would draw the visitors level soon later and, after seeing Garry Breen and Joe Gormley go close to finding the net, the Reds withstood a lengthy spell of second-half pressure before McMenamin struck again to make it three goals in two outings, having also been the matchwinner in Saturday’s defeat of Coleraine.

It goes without saying, then, that the Manager has been more than pleased with his side’s work so far this festive week.

“The days of people saying we are soft and nice to watch are long over,” said McLaughlin, whose side travel to Larne tomorrow.

“That claim has been put to bed over the last two games.

“We knew we would have to work really hard for anything we got at Seaview and the players certainly stepped up and delivered.

“We don’t have the biggest squad but we have desire and the heart of a lion, which not every team might have.

“You never know how things will pan out and we have never considered ourselves title contenders, but we have set the boys a target and, if we had any chance of winning the League, we needed to be within touching distance going into the New Year and we are doing that.

“We have tough games but it remains to be seen whether we can stay in the title race.

“The top six sides are all strong and, while we are lacking in numbers, we can stay in the hunt.

“The boys know they have to be professional and have the right mentality if they want to stay in touch with the leaders. They have to make sacrifices over the festive season and they rightly sit at the top of the table because they are talented and work hard.”

Pleased though he was with the overall team effort, McLaughlin singled two-goal hero McMenamin out for particular praise.

“He’s shown again he’s a class act and among the League’s top performers, he wins games for you and we are lucky to have him,” he added.

“Not too many players possess the talent that Conor McMenamin has. He is a different class and even has that touch of genius which you need. We are blessed to have him on a long-term deal and he has deserved it.

“He’s got that bit of class to get you over the line and be the difference in big games.”