No matter how title race ends...this season is just the start for Cliftonville
Cliftonville must close out a thrilling campaign in title glory or glorious failure - but boss Paddy McLaughlin has full faith today’s Premiership endgame marks only the start of a sustained silverware challenge.
Matchday number 38, a 50th fixture overall for the Reds, will bring the curtain down on Cliftonville’s against-the-odds Gibson Cup bid in gripping fashion as events over 90-plus minutes at Windsor Park and The Oval settle the outcome of the championship trophy.
McLaughlin will send out his players against Glentoran in search of one final win to keep alive hopes of a last-gasp title turnaround.
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His message to ignore the high-stakes roller-coaster of emotions and keep faith in the trusted fundamentals which have served his Solitude squad so well to date confirms both McLaughlin’s determination to stay true to his beliefs on the biggest stage of all and his commitment to the continued pursuit of prizes.
Astute work in the transfer market since his arrival as Reds boss in February 2019 has helped to build on internal foundations with external additions towards a squad capable of producing vibrant performances consistently within a Premiership field featuring rivals with superior resources.
With a League Cup prize in the trophy cabinet and European football on the summer schedule, McLaughlin is keen to draw on the full experience of the Premiership push irrespective of today’s final scorelines.
“We have to be delighted to be sitting in this position going into the final day,” said McLaughlin. “We’ve been underdogs all season to many but it’s no surprise to me as we’ve a brilliant squad.
“We’ve finished the season with silverware, plus secured European football and now go into the last game in contention for the title...so it’s been incredible.
“This whole experience over the season will be invaluable....I look at our squad and am confident it’s a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ we challenge in the future for top prizes.
“We managed to add one or two experienced players but it is essentially a very young group.
“The players must embrace everything that comes with Saturday.
“But this experience will stand us in good stead...not just for this campaign but future seasons together and what we can achieve.”
McLaughlin accepts Linfield’s bid for a fourth successive title under David Healy is stacked in the favour of the defending champions - but feels Coleraine could have a greater say in events than many outsiders anticipate.
“We appreciate it is Linfield’s title to lose and they have control but I also feel some people have been slightly disrespectful towards Coleraine by writing off their chances,” said McLaughlin. “Many seem to assume it’s a done deal that Linfield will win but it would be no surprise to me if Coleraine managed to produce a result.
“But all we can do is look after our own result, do our thing and if it falls in our favour then it would be incredible.
“To face Glentoran is a difficult task at any point and to go to The Oval in need of a win makes it even more testing.
“But we must embrace that challenge, be brave and not change the approach which has allowed us to get to this point.
“We must go in with the same attitude as the previous 37 league games.
“The support for the players will be incredible on Saturday given we’ve sold out our away allocation, which shows once again the passion and loyalty of our fanbase.
“There’s a real bond between the fans and club...that sense of pride and we go hand-in-hand into every challenge.
“We have nothing to lose and all the weight of expectation is on Linfield.”