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We’re still in the picture: Paddy

Paddy McLaughlin admits Cliftonville’s performance in last night’s defeat to Linfield was every bit as disappointing as the result but insists encouragement should still be taken from the bigger picture.

The Reds slipped to third in the Danske Bank Premiership table on goal difference after going down 2-1 to the Blues, who netted though an Andy Mitchell penalty and Mark Stafford volley either side of Joe Gormley’s equaliser.

“From the start of the season, if you had said we’d be joint top with Linfield and Glentoran in mid-January, a lot of people probably would have thought you were mad,” says McLaughlin.

“It’s way overachieving and way ahead of schedule but that’s where we’re at. We’ve got to be realistic, we’re delighted to be among the leading pack but on nights like last night, you’ve got to be majorly disappointed that we didn’t come away with at least a point – especially at home.

“We’re disappointed with the performance and the result but we’re still up there amongst the leading pack and that’s not to be underestimated. It’s taken a lot of hard work and we’ve taken a few bumps along the way – and we’ve hit another one here.

“There’s no one hurting more than the players but they will be back at it come Saturday, ready to go again.”

Cliftonville’s frustrations were exacerbated when, not for the first time this season, Linfield escaped a few late penalty appeals following strong claims for handling inside the box – but McLaughlin was philosophical in his appraisal of referee Raymond Crangle’s decision-making.

“It’s disappointing but you’ve just got to trust referee and linesmen to do their job to a high level, if the referee doesn’t see it as a penalty then you’ve got to trust his call,” he says.

“I think the replays have shown it was a penalty – it was a handball again and that’s a few times now this year that we’ve played Linfield and we’ve been turned down for penalties late in the game. They say these things even themselves out and hopefully they do because we’re in for a windfall of penalties between now and the end of the season. We’ve been turned down for three or four strong appeals and, like I say, it’s disappointing but you’ve got to trust the referee.”

While admitting that the Reds didn’t perform to the levels they’re capable of reaching, the Manager revealed that members of his squad were still feeling the effects of a bruising Christmas and New Year schedule, with injury restricting Gormley to just over an hour’s action and reducing Jamie Harney to an unused substitute’s role – although there were positives to call upon in the shape of Chris Curran’s return and Michael McCrudden’s debut.

“Michael came on and did well,” adds McLaughlin. “It’s his first game in a few months because he’s in the off-season, coming up from the League of Ireland. Getting him on the pitch was great to see because he showed a few flashes of his quality and ability.

“It’s disappointing it was at the expense of Joe – he went off with a hamstring injury that he’d been carrying for a while. If it goes on him, he could be out long term, so we’ve got to be very careful with him.

“Hopefully it’s not too bad but it’s good to see that we’ve got the quality of Michael McCrudden coming onto the pitch, hopefully with a few games and sessions under his belt he’ll be up to speed in no time.

“There were quite a few carrying knocks and niggles from the festive period. It’s so intense and there were so many games.

“Chris Curran, realistically, probably should have sat the game out. Joe Gormley probably should have sat the game out but hopefully they aren’t too bad. Hopefully Chris is over his problem and Jamie will be back soon.”