Paddy McLaughlin acknowledged that Cliftonville didn’t come up with answers to the obstacles they faced in last night’s Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup semi-final defeat to Crusaders – but pointed to a costly offside call that he believes might have swung the momentum.
With the game level at 1-1 after Ross Clarke had cancelled out Joe Gormley’s opener, Paul O’Neill – who had earlier seen a headed effort ruled out by the assistant referee’s flag – raced on to Ronan Doherty’s forward header and slotted past goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey only for an offside call to again halt play.
Television replays showed that the striker was being played onside by both Billy-Joe Burns and Aidan Wilson, with McLaughlin bemoaning the decision that came just a few minutes before the Crues claimed what turned out to be the winner.
“It was a brilliant start by us,” reflected the Manager.
“We were 1-0 up and I thought we were in total control of the game. We looked very dangerous every time we attacked and scored a second perfectly good goal only for it to be disallowed. I think if that goal stands, it puts us in a really strong position to go on, win the match and get the Club to the Final.
“We’re disappointed with that decision, but that’s no excuse. Going into half-time, we took our foot off the pedal and got a wee bit complacent. There were two mistakes that led to the two goals but there were a few mistakes in the build-up to them – we let the cross come in early, we let the second ball be headed down in the box and we didn’t react quick enough. Then, when you’re waiting for the half-time whistle to go, you’ve got to be strong, you’ve got to be brave and do whatever it takes to clear the last cross.
“It was two lapses in concentration and it’s not like us because we’re really strong defensively. We’ve kept so many clean sheets this year and we’re disappointed with the goals we conceded but that can happen and you’ve got to find another goal or answers to the problems that come your way and I just don’t think we answered enough of the problems, especially in the second-half.
“It’s frustrating that we weren’t able to find an equaliser. We’d a chance late on through young O’Neill and a couple of wee scares maybe but I don’t think we did enough in the second-half, to be honest.”
Despite the Cup exit, the big games continue to come thick and fast for Cliftonville and McLaughlin believes his players will be “raring to go” for Tuesday’s Danske Bank Premiership trip to Portadown.
“The players are disappointed,” he added. “We all wanted to get to the Final and give the fans another big day out but it wasn’t meant to be and that’s it, that’s where it ends.
“We’ve another big game on Tuesday night and then five games in the split from next week on, so there’s so much to play for in so many big games and I told the boys they could feel sorry for themselves for the night, no problem – when you wake up, it’s a new day and we’ve a big game on Tuesday night.
“If we have to move on without one or two who let the disappointment get the better of them, we’ll move on without them. But I don’t think that will be the case, the boys will be raring to go.”