Paddy McLaughlin admitted to being “slightly disappointed” to only emerge from last night’s encounter with Linfield but paid credit to his players’ application.
Though the Blues came closest to scoring with a first-half Andrew Clarke header that came back off the post, Cliftonville tried their luck from various ranges on the night and saw a fierce Rory Hale strike deflected wide, a long-distance attempt from Kris Lowe gathered by Chris Johns and a last-gasp opening that saw the home keeper deny Ryan Curran a certain winner.
“Both sides created chances but, concentrating on our boys, I thought we played some brilliant football and the energy levels that they showed were impressive,” reflected McLaughlin.
“I’m not looking to make excuses about the full-time against part-time thing, but I thought we finished the game stronger.
“Against full-time opposition, one thing that might be a disadvantage at times is midweek games – our boys coming from work and them probably coming in from some hotel round the corner, freshened up and rested – but the work-rate and quality from our boys throughout the match was superb.
“I can’t fault them for effort but it’s just that last percentage you’re looking for you’re looking for to get the job done at Windsor Park. To do that, you need 100% and we’re probably sitting at 99 – it’s so close to getting a good win at a really tough venue against a top side.
“We’re slightly disappointed we didn’t win the match but we’ll take our point at a really difficult venue and move on.”
Though the contest ultimately ended in stalemate, the Reds came close to a dramatic injury-time success when an incisive counter-attack ended with Ronan Hale playing Curran through on goal only for Johns to make a timely intervention – one that earned McLaughlin’s praise.
“You’d put your house on any of our strikers in that situation because they’re that good,” he added. “They’ve all been excellent for us this season but it’s one of those ones where a couple of inches or a great save has made the difference.
“Nathan Gartside has done well for us but all his saves were ones that were comfortable for him and you’d expect – but that’s a great save from Johns in a one-on-one situation in the 90th minute.”