CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin is looking to rotate some of his players for Tuesday evening’s County Antrim Shield opener.
For the second season running, Knockbreda make the trip to Solitude (7.45pm kick-off) hoping to claim a scalp of the 2019-20 winners.
Reds boss McLaughlin acknowledged that some of his players could do with a rest after a hectic start to the season and believes that some also need game time on the pitch.
“It’s another tough game,” acknowledges McLaughlin.
“It’s another competition that we want to do well in, but you saw this afternoon that a couple of boys were carrying injuries and a few boys limping out the door there as they’re passing.
“It’s important that we rotate our squad because we’ve got a good bench and a really strong one capable of playing at any time. It may be an opportunity now to rotate a couple of players around and keep boys fresh.
“It’s a long season and a tough season. It’s gruelling at times and there will be a lot bumps along the way. It’s important we have every player up to speed with their sharpness and their game time. It’s an opportunity maybe to give one or two a few minutes under their belt."
McLaughlin put his side’s slow start in Saturday’s victory over Dungannon Swifts down the intensity of recent games but felt they were always a threat in the final third.
“In the first half we were probably a bit slow out of the blocks and sluggish,” McLaughlin admits.
“The intensity of the games recently has probably taken its toll on one or two so it’s important now that we look after them. For the rest of the game, I thought we stayed in control. They broke and looked dangerous a few times with their pace up top.
“They kept the ball really well, but I think we always had that goal set every time we had the ball in the final third, we looked like we could score. It’s important we maintain that threat in the final third. I thought we were excellent – when the chances came, we took them, and we defended really well for the rest of the game.”
Joe Gormley capped his 350th appearance for the Solitude club with a brace either side of the break and his manager was full of praise for the clubs record breaking talisman.
“He’s a phenomenal player with a phenomenal goal scoring record for the club,” he said.
“He’s a legend of the club and there’s still many years left in the tank yet for him. He can go and smash records and set records that nobody will ever catch and hopefully he does. He’s been a fantastic player for me since I’ve arrived and down the years for every other manager.
“He keeps doing the business time and time again. We’re delighted to have him on board and we’re delighted that he rubbished all that nonsense talk of him leaving during the summer and what a player we’ve got on our hands when he’s in that kind of form because in the blink of an eye he can score a goal.
“He never stops and that’s the honesty in Joe and the honesty in the rest of team. Right across the pitch you see the work that they go through and the drive they’ve got in themselves and each other. Joe leads the line by example, he’s fantastic at it and he caps it off with two brilliant finishes.”
McLaughlin was again quick to brush off his side’s early position at the league summit but factors their fine early form down to having a proper pre-season.
“I’d rather be top than bottom, but it’s too early in the league to be looking at league tables,” McLaughlin insists.
“We won’t be getting caught up with that madness with people getting excited about league positions after five games.
“We’re just trying to get as many points on board as quick as we can and try and stay with the lead pack early doors in the season. That’s what the boys have been doing and we’ll see where it takes us. For now, we’re just enjoying the good performances and the good victories.
“Our boys hit the ground running in pre-season and at the start of the season. We had an extended break which we didn’t have the year before. I think it showed in our performance over the course of the season.
“This year the boys have trained really well in pre-season, and it’s been a good start for us. But we’re only five games into a long, long season.”