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A dread loss

Paddy McLaughlin admits that yesterday’s North Belfast Derby draw with Crusaders felt like a defeat due to the late nature of the visitors’ equaliser.

Cliftonville reacted well to falling behind to Jamie McGonigle’s early penalty; pulling in front courtesy of Rory Hale’s finish and a Chris Hegarty own goal either side of half-time only for the Crues to snatch a point when Ben Kennedy’s 93rd minute cross sneaked into the net.

“We’ve only made two mistakes in the game – one in the first minute and one in the last – and conceded two goals,” reflected McLaughlin.

“Everything in between was excellent. I think the players worked their socks off, they matched and won the physical battle that Crusaders bring to you and they played good football, especially early in the second-half when we had them on the rack and could have put the game to bed, so to concede an equaliser with the last attack of the match feels like a defeat.”

Though he was reticent to be merely accentuating positives having come within 30 seconds of a deserved win, McLaughlin noted the change in attitude among his players just a few weeks after he highlighted how their confidence had regularly been dented by conceding the first goal of a game.

In each of Cliftonville’s outings in 2021 so far, they have found themselves 1-0 down only to turn the tie around in games which were settled in the 93rd minute – Ryan Curran’s penalty earning victory over Dungannon Swifts last weekend ahead of Crusaders’ late reprieve yesterday.

“Last week, we showed good character to come from behind – which was the first time we’ve done that this season,” added the Manager.

“Any other time we’ve gone behind, we’ve lost the game, so it was a challenge not just to come back, but to show good composure and control the game. It was the same against Crusaders – after going 1-0 down in the first few minutes, you’re wondering what way the game’s going to go and you’re worried that heads would go down, but they didn’t. We actually got stronger, which was a brilliant response to going behind against a good Crusaders team.”

“But we need to keep that going. We can’t just play with that level of work-rate and fight against Crusaders and then drop off against other teams. We have to have high standards and the players have shown they’re capable of reaching them.”

Home debutant Hale – who, of course, only made the move from Seaview less than three weeks ago – has been a driving force in that upturn, with McLaughlin pleased with what the midfielder and new goalkeeper Aaron McCarey have contributed during their short spells at the Club.

“Rory has been excellent since he came in, not just in the two matches but also in training,” he said.

“He’s shown great leadership skills, he’s demanding and that’s what you need in your team and that’s why we targeted Rory, along with big Aaron McCarey. They’ve been two great additions for what they add on the pitch but what they bring into the changing room as well.”