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Fanfare for Paddy

Paddy McLaughlin says his big regret about Cliftonville’s sensational victory over Linfield last night was that the Red Army were not at Solitude to lap up every second of the seven-goal thriller.

After falling behind either side of Michael McCrudden’s equaliser, the hosts roared back with a Conor McMenamin double before Ryan Curran’s late strike proved decisive in advance of the Blues banking a last-gasp free-kick and, though delighted to see his side learn lessons from recent setbacks, McLaughlin rued the fact that the game was played out in front of empty stands.

“It’s sad to see,” he said.

“Playing Linfield on a Tuesday night, the place should be bouncing. No doubt there would have been a full house. Linfield would have brought a fantastic crowd and our boys would have been fantastic, too. They’d have taken the roof off that stand when the third and fourth goals went in.

“It’s just sad that the fans aren’t here to experience it. The sooner they’re back here, the better because we miss them dearly.

“I’m sure all around Belfast and up in Derry, too, that there’ll have been a few cans of beer bounced off roofs and off TVs and I hope they enjoyed it because we owe them a couple of performances. We’ve let them down for too long and hopefully the last few performances have got people back onside again because they’re a driving force behind the Club.”

Having started 2021 by claiming a 93rd minute winner over Dungannon Swifts before conceding a 93rd minute equaliser against Crusaders, McLaughlin was wary of the threat Linfield continued to pose with the scoreline at 3-2 and paid credit to his players for going in search of the goal that ultimately won the tie before the Blues claimed their own inevitable 93rd minute consolation.

“Linfield came out of the blocks really well, played some good football and got themselves an early goal and you’re thinking it’s going to be one of those days where we just didn’t show up,” he admitted.

“The players didn’t accept that. They rolled their sleeves up, dug it out for the next 10 minutes and I think we controlled the rest of the game after that.

“Even so, Linfield are Champions because they have that power to stay in games and turn them on their head in the blink of an eye. We actually spoke beforehand about the fact we might have plentty of possession but you have to be aware of the counter attacking threat that they have and they showed it.

“Again, though, the character we showed to pick ourselves up again after going 2-1 down was fantastic – not just to score the equaliser but to take the lead and then extend the lead. We’re disappointed with the goal we conceded right at the death because it made it a nervous finish but the response every time we had a setback was phenomenal.

“We’re a young side and we’ve learned tough lessons this season. We’ve made mistakes and been punished for them and we learned a lesson against Crusaders. This time, we didn’t sit back and soak up a bit of pressure. We decided our best way of playing was on the front foot and on the attack and, fair play to them, they didn’t settle for a point, they didn’t settle for 3-2, they went and scored a fourth.

“It was an excellent performance, as good a performance as we’ve had in a long time and a brilliant result for us.”