Paddy McLaughlin had called for a big performance when Cliftonville headed to The Oval and was delighted his players produced in yesterday’s victory over Glentoran.
Ryan Curran’s early volley ultimately settled the issue but the Reds could have been out of sight by half-time, with Ronan Hale twice threatening either side of his brother Rory going close, while Ronan Doherty saw a second-half effort come back off the crossbar.
“The boys were excellent, we scored a brilliant goal and had numerous other chances to take it a wee bit more comfortable, especially in the first-half,” reflected McLaughlin.
“Our forward play was fantastic, the shape of our team was fantastic and the defensive block we put on right throughout the 90 minutes was superb, so it was a good all-round performance. Glentoran are one of the top sides in the division so coming to their place, keeping a clean sheet and getting three points takes a lot of hard work.
“The Glens had a couple of late chances but, given all the opportunities we had, it would have been a sore one not to have won the match. We defended brilliantly and protecteded our keeper really well. When he was called upon, he did his job and, over the course of the 90 minutes, I don’t think too many people would say we didn’t deserve the three points.”
As well as paying credit to Curran for the technique required to dispatch his left-footed strike, McLaughlin was also pleased with the attitude his players showed in generating momentum before that breakthrough moment.
“We almost scored in the build-up to the corner and I think the boys smelled a wee bit of blood there – they knew if they could keep the ball in the final third and keep the pressure on, there might be something there for us,” he added.
“The chance could have gone when they cleared the ball behind for the corner but we kept at it. I think the players felt there was a chance of a goal coming and they kept pushing to get it – and what a fantastic strike.”
Having pocketed seven points from three consecutive away matches in the Danske Bank Premiership – recording three clean sheets in the process – McLaughlin admitted some of the criticism aimed at his side earlier in the month had helped sharpen the team’s determination but explained that yesterday’s motivation came from an alternate avenue, with new BUI Celtic Super Welterweight Champion Owen O’Neill’s defeat of Owen Duffy the night before the game uppermost in his mind.
“Every time we see criticism, I remind the players of it but the main motivation we used was Owen O’Neill’s fight on Saturday night – what a performance,” he continued.
“He wore his Cliftonville top going in and he wore it again going out and I said to the players that’s what we were going to do, we were going to go out and stand toe to toe with Glentoran, who were more fancied than we were going into the match. He was the inspiration for us.
“I hope he enjoyed the game and it was great to see him wearing his colours with pride on Saturday night just as our boys wore their colours with pride in the game.”