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Won and only target

Paddy McLaughlin admitted that Cliftonville suffered some opening day jitters in yesterday’s Danske Bank Premiership victory over Carrick Rangers but was more than happy to see his team get the job done.

After falling behind to a Lloyd Anderson volley, two bullet headers from Jamie Harney had the Reds in front by half-time and, after opportunities to extend their advantage were not taken up, Cliftonville found themselves under some late pressure, with Ewan Kelly, Stuart Nixon and Lee McNulty all going close to drawing Carrick level.

“The most important thing is winning the game, that’s what we came here to do,” said McLaughlin afterwards.

“I certainly think we can play a lot better at times and we looked a wee bit edgy and a wee bit nervy. That comes with the expectation that’s on them and rightly so because they’re good players so once you get the first win out of the road and the first three points on the board, I think everything else will be a lot better.

“I think it’s important to remember that we came here to win the game and we got it, even though it did look a bit scrappy.”

Shortly after Harney’s first goal, Ryan Curran was denied by a good save from Aaron Hogg and saw a second-half opportunity well blocked by Jim Ervin and, while acknowledging that a third goal would have put the Reds in a much more comfortable position, McLaughlin was encouraged that a failure to score it did not come back to hurt his side.

“The third goal kills the game off,” he added.

“We had numerous chances to score it but that happens. Sometimes you miss chances and you give up soft chances, but it’s important to dust yourself down to go again and we did that throughout the game.

“You don’t need to tell us how many late goals we conceded last year or how many points it cost us, so last season that game could easily come back to bite us with the chances we missed. The players have learned that the hard way and it’s good that they were able to grind it out at the end. We shouldn’t have had to grind it out, we had opportunities to put the game to bed and when you don’t take them, you do run the risk of being sucker-punched but, fair play to the boys, they held on at the end.”

McLaughlin also paid credit to both teams for producing such an end-to-end contest in energy-sapping Solitude sunshine.

“The way we like to dominate the ball and win it back early, it’s high intensity and takes up a lot of energy but, fair play to both sets of players, I thought they did fantastically to maintain such a high-tempo game for so long,” he said.

“Even standing on the sideline, you can see both sets of coaching staffs sweating buckets – so how do the players feel? They’re the ones chasing after every ball, they’re heading, throwing themselves into tackles and getting up and doing it again, so you’ve got to give them all the credit in the world because that was serious heat out there.”