Paddy McLaughlin admits that the winning goal arrived later than he would have liked, but had no shortage of praise for his players after Cliftonville started 2021 with a dramatic comeback victory over Dungannon Swifts.
Having lost every Danske Bank Premiership match in which they had conceded the first goal so far this season, the signs were ominous when Aaron Donnelly’s first-half own goal put the Swifts in front at Stangmore Park but McLaughlin – who recently declared that his side need to react better to falling behind – was pleased that heads didn’t drop.
“At half-time, we challenged the players to go out and win the game – not to settle for a draw,” he says.
“They had guts, character, bottle – anything you want to use, it was there in abundance in the second-half.”
Chris Curran’s smart finish levelled matters shortly after the restart but Cliftonville looked set to endure further frustration when Ryan Curran, Joe Gormley and Conor McMenamin each saw two chances come and go amid a wave of one-way traffic.
Deep into injury-time, however, a handling offence by Caolin Coyle earned a last-gasp penalty, which Ryan Curran stepped up to convert with literally the last kick of the game.
“It was a good day for us. It took us until late on to win it, but I thought we deserved it,” adds McLaughlin, who raced on to the pitch to celebrate with his players as the referee’s final whistle accompanied the ball finding the net.
“I think it was nothing more than we deserved – the whole second-half was played in the Dungannon half.
“They were out to defend their lead, and they have every right to do so, but the response from our players, from going a goal down, was excellent – the second-half especially.
“It looked like it was going to be one of those days where it just won’t go for you, but the players stuck at it and kept plugging away right up until the very last second and they got their reward for it.”