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Staying on schedule

Paddy McLaughlin paid tribute to Cliftonville’s players and backroom staff as the Reds’ “crazy” schedule continued with a 2-1 win over Ballymena United last night.

Ryan Curran opened the scoring only for Shay McCartan to level matters before half-time, with Paul O’Neill ultimately having the final say when he converted an 82nd minute delivery from Garry Breen – with McLaughlin delighted with how his players stepped things up in the second-half.

“Conditions and the schedule can sometimes catch up on players and be heavy on the legs and it might be a matter of grinding it out, putting your body on the line and hoping somebody pops up with a wee bit of magic in the final third,” he said.

“I think we slightly shaded the first-half and then, the longer it went on, the fitness levels of the players kicked in and we could see Ballymena start to drop off, so we knew we had to put the squeeze on them. Fair play to the players, they’ve done the business.

“I can’t give them enough credit, they’ve been superb, especially during the crazy schedule since Christmas. They haven’t really been training, it’s mainly just been recovery between games.”

McLaughlin was also pleased with Breen’s contribution in the aftermath of United’s equaliser, which came when the defender miscued his attempted clearance of Trai Hume’s cross.

“We don’t blame any individual,” stressed the Manager. “There were probably a couple of opportunities for us to stop that attack. All goals can be stopped at source higher up the pitch, Breeny was just unfortunate that his clearance didn’t get any distance on it but his performance right throughout the game was fantastic and that’s two in a row he’s put in – and that’s a man who hasn’t trained in six weeks because of a hamstring injury.

“I’m delighted for him because in the past, he might have let his head drop down but he didn’t, he got on with it, he dusted himself down, puts in a top drawer performance and sets up the winner.”

Another player who caught the eye was midfielder Barry Coffey, whose perserverance in pressing high up the pitch paved the way for Curran’s opener.

“Barry Coffey was excellent,” added McLaughlin.

“He put so much effort into his performance that I think he nearly blew a gasket in the end. He was fantastic and I’m delighted for him because he’s getting better every time he plays. He’s learning the League and learning the players. He’s a young boy who’s come over from Celtic and has taken a chance in settling here, but he’s come in and done it very well. He knows nothing about the League, he knows nothing about opponents but he’s putting in performance after performance.”

Coffey’s involvement was the only alteration to the starting XI that tackled Larne on Saturday, with McLaughlin revealing that weekend matchwinner Ronan Doherty is the latest player to find himself under the expert eye of physio Stuart Holmes.

“He’s picked up an injury that’s probably going to take a few weeks to heal,” he explained.

“The injury record at the Club this year has been horrendous. We don’t do one or two-week injuries, it’s usually six or seven weeks. I’m not saying Olly’s is that serious, but we’ve had a lot of long-term ones but our physios have been fantastic. Staurt’s been flat out in here, he works all hours and has been meeting players during the day to patch them up and get them on the pitch. He’s done a fantastic job for us, so you have to give him and Chris McKenna all the credit in the world during such a tough schedule.”