Paddy McLaughlin said it felt like Cliftonville lost last night’s BetMcLean Cup semi-final three times as he reflected on his side’s penalty shootout defeat to Coleraine.
Twice ahead through Ronan Hale and Odhran Casey, the Reds were pegged back by Matthew Shevlin on each occasion and, after the Bannsiders saw their opening penalty saved by Nathan Gartside – who repelled Lyndon Kane’s first kick and also the retake – the home side were unable to work the situation to their advantage en route to a 5-4 reverse.
“We’ve led twice in the game and given away two soft goals in and around our six-yard box, which isn’t like us,” he said.
“Our play in the first-half was very good and, in the second-half, we had the lead and Coleraine were coming at us with a lot of forwards on. I thought we defended really well bar that moment of sloppiness and then, when it goes to penalties, obviously you have to take advantage when they miss, so we’ve almost lost the tie three times.
“I’m bitterly disappointed for the players because they’ve worked so hard and I’m disappointed for the fans because, fair play to them, they were there, backed us to the hilt and stuck with us right to the end.”
While frustrated to miss out on a place in the Final, McLaughlin saluted his players’ efforts throughout a mammoth two-hour battle.
“I think that’s four penalty shootouts I’ve lost in my time here and I’ve heard some boys in there saying they’ve lost a lot more than that, so it just seems to be a bit of a curse when it comes to penalties,” he added.
“We should have managed the game properly when we were in the lead to make sure it never went to penalties. That’s a small criticism of the players, though. You can’t fault them for all their efforts because they put everything into the game and the boys who stepped up to hit the penalties showed a lot of bravery and a lot of bottle to do that in front of such a big crowd when they know how much it means to everybody involved.
“Jamie McDonagh’s hit the post, Sean Moore’s hit the bar, Kris Lowe’s got himself into a great position but just couldn’t get the ball out of his feet, so we did have opportunities but that’s the way football can be sometimes.”
Cliftonville now find themselves out of action for a week-and-a-half and, while some of last night’s walking wounded will welcome the opportunity to recuperate, the Manager has backed them to respond in the right manner – especially with the added boost of Levi Ives’ return from injury.
“The players will go home and they’ll be sick to their stomach, their heads are down and some of the boys are on the floor in there – even the staff – because it means so much to them to do well for the Club and means so much to he fans, which is who we’re playing for,” he explained.
“They’ll be down for a couple of days but they’ve had setbacks before and always bounced back stronger, so that’ll be key – we’ve got to take the hit and get back at it again.
“They’ve put so much into the game, they’ve thrown themselves into tackles, thrown themselves into headers, ran themselves into the ground over 120 minutes so you can’t fault their efforts. We saw how much they put into it and a lot of them have gone home patched up, with ice packs and everything else so they deserve a few days to recover.
“The break until the next game will probably suit Levi, it’ll give him time to woek on his fitness and sharpness. He’s been working really hard behind the scenes and he’ll be looking to push for a place in the starting XI because we know how good he is and I’m sure the fans appreciate that, when he’s back fit and playing regularly, he’s probably the best left-back in the country.
“Disappointing circumstances to see him come back in but it’s a brilliant boost for us going into the festive and New Year period.
“I’d love to be playing tomorrow so we can get up and running again but we just have to lick our wounds for 10 days and when that game comes around, those boys will be raring to go.”