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Learning potential

Paddy McLaughlin admitted Cliftonville have to stop vowing to learn lessons and begin putting that education into practise after being shocked by Dungannon Swifts at Solitude yesterday.

A fortnight on from a lacklustre performance leading to Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup elimination by the same opponents, the Reds produced a similarly flat first-half display but stepped things up after the interval, going close on a number of occasions before the deadlock was finally broken when Ronan Hale rose highest to convert Ronan Doherty’s 59th minute cross.

Thereafter, however, Cliftonville failed to demonstrate the same conviction in the final third, passing up a host of opportunities to wrap up the points, which left the door open for the visitors, who pounced in the 89th and 93rd minutes to complete an unlikely turnaround and inflict the Reds’ first Premiership home defeat in 14 months.

“It’s shellshock – we were comfortable enough for large parts of the game and, though we were nowhere near our best, we’d so many chances to make it 2-0 and put the game safe,” said McLaughlin.

“Then, as the game got towards the 90th minute, I think we got a bit edgy and didn’t manage the game well enough. We let them in once just before they equalised and that was a warning shot we should have adhered but we didn’t. They get down a second time and it’s a free header on the six yard line, which is criminal.

“We’re shocked and disappointed to have let that happen and then obviously we’re throwing everything at it to try and get the winner because a draw’s no good, but there’s a quick counter-attack, they pick us off and score a second.”

The Manager admitted he was surprised that Cliftonville got off to such a slow start in light of the sides’ previous meeting earlier this month.

“I thought we would have come out of the traps really quickly,” he explained. “Dungannon had got plenty of bodies around the ball and killed the clock the last time we played them and it worked for them, so we’d prepared the players for that but I think we fell into that trap again – we were getting frustrated, we were trying things that weren’t on and forcing things that weren’t on because they were defending in numbers.

“That’s part of the frustration, too, that we’ve let that get the better of us so soon after them doing it to us in the Cup, so there’s a lot to learn.

“We keep learning but we have to develop, we can’t keep being taught these lessons, we have to take them on board and add them to our own game. Unfortunately, we seem to be being taught the same lesson time and time again for most of the season.”

On a failure to find a killer second goal, McLaughlin added: “We had so many chances to make it 2-0 through three or four players, it’s not like they were all falling to the same player. Every time we missed a chance, if you’re in the Dungannon camp you’re thinking ‘we only need one chance and we can salvage something’. Every time we passed up an opportunity to put the game to bed, we probably gave them that wee bit of encouragement.

“When you look at the chances created for both teams, they’ve been ruthless and we haven’t. That goes for both ends of the pitch because we can’t be conceding two goals at such a key stage of the season and we can’t be passing up so many opportunities to seal the game.

“It’s a frustrating day for us, a devastating day for the players and supporters because there was so much riding on it.”