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Paddy McLaughlin believes that Cliftonville’s players continuing to demand more from themselves is the key to an improvement in form following the Danske Bank Premiership’s Covid-enforced break.

The New Year has thus far been a tale of two 93rd minute goals, with the Reds registering a dramatic winner at Dungannon Swifts before being pegged back by Crusaders and, ahead of tomorrow’s trip to tackle Ballymena United at The Showgrounds, McLaughlin has been pleased with the boost his squad’s new arrivals have provided to thise around them.

“The boys in the last couple of games and training sessions have been showing signs that they are getting back at themselves,” he says.

“The intensity and quality of our play has definitely gone up and it’s probably no coincidence that it’s happened since Rory Hale and Aaron McCarey have come in. They’re two players who have set demands and set standards – their own levels and standards are high and I think that’s rubbing off on players already.

“They are demanding players and top quality players and it’s good to have that on the pitch. The demands aren’t just coming from myself and coaching staff but the players on the pitch are demanding more of themselves and each other, which is good.

“When we play on top gear, we are as good as anybody.”

McLaughlin welcomed the introduction of Covid-19 testing to the Premiership this week but, as well as being disappointed to lose Joe Gormley to injury for the foreseeable future, is hopeful that Cliftonville will not be handed an overly crowded schedule when postponed fixtures are rearranged.

“Everybody has their families at home and their own concerns, but hopefully now that will put an end to any worries that they have going into games,” he said of the virus testing.

“Fair play to the League and the IFA for supporting the Clubs because we needed it badly and it’s good to see that everybody is back on board again.

“We haven’t got the biggest squad in the League and we’re not blessed with the resources and numbers that other teams have but what we have is quality. It might be small numbers but it’s high in quality.

“As long as the League is realistic in when they our rearranging the fixtures and that they don’t set the demand on part-time players that they’re playing two games a week for the next five or six weeks.

“I’m sure that won’t be the case but as long as they are realistic whenever they’re rescheduling the fixtures that have been cancelled. I know a couple of sides are full-time and have huge numbers to select from but it’s got to be based on a wee bit of reality with the rest of the teams in a part-time League.”