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Wait lift

Paddy McLaughlin admits he’d rather not have had to wait nine days for Cliftonville’s return to action following last weekend’s Irish Cup defeat by Dungannon Swifts, but says that he, his staff and players have used the time to tune into the “Cup Final mentality” that will be required for tonight’s North Belfast Derby with Crusaders.

The Reds travel to Seaview for their penultimate away fixture prior to the Danske Bank Premiership’s two-way split and McLaughlin says that standing up to the physical battle will be key to the team getting back on track in this evening’s game, which will be screened live on Sky Sports.

“We’ve had a week to reflect on where we’d been going right up until last Saturday and also to reflect on where we went wrong in that game,” he explains.

“We felt sorry for ourselves and licked our wounds for a couple of days before we were back to work to start preparing for a massive game against Crusaders.

“All North Belfast Derby games are tough. They’re a big, physical side and their home record’s very strong, so we’ve got to expect what we always get there – a tough, physical battle – but we need to get ourselves back on our feet and up and running again.

“It’s an occasion that requires a level of performance that I know our players are hungry to deliver.”

As exasperated as he was to taste Irish Cup elimination last time out, McLaughlin has challenged his players to channel their own disappointment into a positive ending to the season.

“Hopefully that’s the fuse lit for the run-in,” he adds. “We’ve nothing to lose now, we’re still in a title hunt along with a lot of other sides who still have a fighting chance.

“It will be difficult because you can’t see Larne dropping too many points but you’ve got to stay in it for as long as you possibly can and, if and when they slip up, you’ve got to pounce on it. Feeling sorry for ourselves and letting the disappointment of last week get us down would be made even worse if Larne did slip up and we didn’t capitalise.

“We’ve got to be prepared for what’s left of the season. We’ve eight massive games, five of them at home, and they’re all going to demand a Cup Final mentality because we’ve got to go for it from the off and that’s how our season’s balanced. This group of players deserve to win medals and trophies because they’ve been excellent for us for a number of years, so we’ve got to be fully geared and focused on challenging and being ready to pounce if other teams slip up.”