THOUGH jockeying for European play-off positions is Cliftonville’s current goal, boss Paddy McLaughlin says he’s thinking longer-term than just the next few months.
The Reds wrapped up the Danske Bank Premiership’s pre-split programme with yet another last-gasp victory over Glentoran on Saturday and, though their place in May’s play-offs have long since been secured, McLaughlin is targeting momentum for both that end-of-season shoot-out and next term.
“Obviously we still have matches left and we want to make sure we do well in the play-offs to get into Europe, but that’s not the only thing we’re aiming towards,” he said.
“We want to finish this season as strongly as we can to give us something to build upon next year.
“There are a lot of good young players at this club and, if you look at our bench against the Glens, we had five players under the age of 23 ready to step in and be called upon when they were needed.
“We’re not waiting until the summer to start working for next season, that started the second I came in the door.”
For the third time this season, the Reds left it until virtually the last kick of the game to see off Glentoran.
After injury-time joy at The Oval on the opening day of the campaign, the Solitude side also struck in the closing stages of November’s meeting before making it three-in-a-row when Ryan Curran had the decisive say of an absorbing encounter that started with the Glens taking an early lead through Ryan O’Neill.
Rory Donnelly levelled with little more than 20 minutes to play before the hosts made it five wins from seven since McLaughlin took charge.
“If people want to talk about character and bottle, we saw that from my players,” added the Reds supremo.
“We didn’t have a good first-half and spoke about it at half-time. I’ve said over and over again that these players are great at taking on information and putting it into practice and we saw that in the way they played in the second-half.
“We played some good football and got our rewards right at the end.”
Glentoran chief Gary Smyth was understandably frustrated to see his young side drop more late points and remained philosophical over his own future, with the imminent arrival of Mick McDermott bringing his tenure to a swift conclusion.
“Nothing changed in terms of preparing the team and doing the team-talk, I’m just gutted, again, with an injury-time defeat against Cliftonville for the third time this season,” he said.
“One’s bad, the second time’s unacceptable and today, the alarm bells should have been ringing. We’ve got to learn to see games out.”
In terms of what’s next, he added: “I don’t know what will happen. I’ve heard the same talk as everyone else but what I do know is if I’m going in to manage a club, I’m bringing my own people with me.
“I wouldn’t inherit anybody else’s (backroom staff) because you need people you can trust. I know the club have said I’m going to be there and whatever else but I’m not too sure how much of a say the club are going to have.”