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Form impressions

Paddy McLaughlin was pleased for both of Cliftonville’s goalscorers in last night’s defeat of Dungannon Swifts and was more than happy to hand a Danske Bank Premiership debut to Lee O’Brien as the Reds’ bright form continued with a well-merited 3-0 success.

Fresh from a hat-trick against Warrenpoint Town at the weekend, Michael McCrudden netted either side of Ryan O’Reilly’s maiden strike for the Club on a night when goalkeeper Aaron McCarey and opposite number Roy Carroll caught the eye in an entertaining encounter.

“I think Dungannon started the game really well and were the better side for the first 10 or 15 minutes,” reflected McLaughlin.

“We got to grips with the game and created numerous chances. Either side of the goals, we definitely could have scored more, but I think our forwards were excellent on the night.

“Michael’s confidence his high at the moment, he’s working really hard in training and on his own to make himself fitter and stronger, so it was only right that we put him into the team when the opportunity came and he’s taken it with both hands.”

On O’Reilly’s 52nd minute finish – which came after he’d ended the first period by coming within inches of a superb solo goal – the Manager added: “He was pushing for it and got a wee glimpse of one in the first-half and kept pushing in the second-half and got on the end of a well-worked set-piece. But it wasn’t just Ryan, I thought the whole side were good. We’re putting a good run of form together at the minute and it’s a great time for so many players to be hitting top form as we come close to the split and the run-in.

“If they can maintain that for the rest of the season, you never know where it could take us.”

O’Brien, who made his senior debut in Cliftonville’s County Antrim Shield defeat of Dundela back in October, was introduced for his Premiership bow as an 85th minute replacement for Daire O’Connor and, while acknowledging that the absence of Reserve team football can make it tough for young players to maintain match sharpness, McLaughlin says he has full faith in all of the young guns at his disposal.

“Lee’s been in with us all season,” he said.

“We’ve got a couple of the younger lads in – the likes of Odhran Casey, young Declan Breen on the bench, Lee O’Brien, Eoin Teggart. We’ve got a squad full of young players and full of bright talent. It’s important we keep blooding these young players in because they deserve it, they’re good enough, they’re training with the first-team for the last couple of months. They’re good enough to train with them, they’re good enough to play so whenever the opportunity comes, I’ve no doubt or fear about putting them in because they’re definitely good enough to play at this level.

“As we saw with young Casey on Saturday, when they get the go-ahead, they’ll never disappoint you because they’re top drawer young players.”