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Boss lauds a United effort

Paddy McLaughlin sympathised with his players after a stunning late equaliser denied them full points against Ballymena United last night.

Cliftonville had taken a 75th minute lead through Ryan Curran’s confidently dispatched penalty, only for Shay McCartan to level things up with a superb long-range strike 10 minutes later.

That teed up an intense finale that saw both sides go in search of a dramatic winner before ultimately being forced to make do with a share of the spoils. Though naturally frustrated to see victory snatched from his team’s grasp, McLaughlin toasted another committed Reds display amid a hectic fixture programme.

“It was a tough game, both sides gave it everything they had, both were going for the win and never settled for a point,” he reflected.

“We’ve a lot of positives to take away from the game. We’re pleased to have kept our run going – that’s one defeat now in 12 – but are obviously disappointed not to have held on at the end.”

On the eye-catching nature of Ballymena’s equaliser, he added: “We’ve had that a few times this year. We’ve protected our keeper brilliantly throughout the night and then we’re done with a wonder goal, so you can’t be too hard on the players because they gave everything they had. They probably deserved the win but had it taken away from them by a great goal from 25 yards.”

Last night’s encounter marked Cliftonville’s fifth midweek outing since the turn of the year and, as they face up to the rare prospect of one game per week for the rest of March, McLaughlin – whose squad hasn’t trained as a unit in 2021 – acknowledged his players’ ongoing efforts.

“The boys have been playing with confidence and so they should be because they’re good players and they’ve proved over the last couple of weeks that they’re one of the fittest sides in the League, their energy levels are superb,” he said.

“I think we’re the only team that’s played twice a week almost every week since Christmas and they’re still putting in that kind of performance and that kind of effort, so I can’t give them enough credit.

“I do think playing two games a week can take a toll. I know it’s the same for most sides but a lot of them have had games called off due to weather conditions but we haven’t – we’ve been playing twice a week, so I think we’ll be glad to get back into some kind of normality and some kind of routine going into Saturday to Saturday for the next few weeks.”