CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin believes his side have risen to the occasion in the big games this season and insists Friday evening is the biggest game of their season to date.

The Reds face North Belfast rivals Crusaders in the semi-final of the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup at Windsor Park (7.45pm kick-off) looking to make it to their second cup final this season.

Almost three weeks on from their League Cup success over Coleraine, McLaughlin feels his players have constantly risen to the occasion and has called for a continuation against their near neighbours.

“It’s set up brilliantly for us,” McLaughlin believes.

“Like I say, the bigger the games this year and this season, our players have produced the best performances and Friday will be the biggest game of the season for us up until this point.

“Crusaders in the Cup semi-final at Windsor Park under lights on a Friday night, it’s a brilliant setting and perfect with a big crowd. Our best performances have always come in the biggest games and hopefully, that continues on.”

International call-ups to Luke McNicholas and Paul O’Neill allowed the Reds to postpone their weekend clash with Portadown and McLaughlin was pleased his players were afforded extra-time to recuperate ahead of the semi-final clash.

“We’d the break at the weekend with Luke and Paul on international call-ups and we’d a well-earned rest and we were delighted to have it,” admits McLaughlin.

“We’d a few sore bodies and a few tired legs. The break came at a brilliant time for us and gave us the chance for an extra couple of days’ rest and freshen us up going into such a tough game and the semi-final on Friday.

“It was great timing, and we were able to relax for a couple of days and prepare for what is a massive game on Friday evening.”

The Solitude side are on a run of 10-wins in a row in all competition and McLaughlin wants it continue in the coming weeks ahead.

“We want to keep our form going,” McLaughlin insists.

“We don’t look too far down the line and we don’t get too carried away when we win and too disappointed when we lose. All we do is keep knocking them off, one at a time and Dungannon was another tough one chalked off.

“It was a tough place to go and Dungannon are a really good footballing side. The surface at this time of year wasn’t great, but it was the same for both sides and it was important we got through the job and got out with a win under our belt.

“I don’t know if we’re peaking too soon, we’ve been on this run of form for two or three months and it’s only now that people are starting to take notice of us. It hasn’t been a bad thing that we’ve floated under the radar until this point really well.”

While Cliftonville had the weekend off, Crusaders geared up with a 4-2 win at Dungannon Swifts.

Manager Stephen Baxter opted to make a number of changes to rest key personnel and give youth a chance with Friday’s semi-final in mind.

“We had planned to play Jack (Patterson) and Joel (Thompson); we’d planned to play one or two others a game that needed a game, and rest some of the players that needed a rest.

“Those guys had put their hand to the wheel five times in a fortnight and they were absolutely out on their feet. There were little niggles, little hamstring injuries and little bits and pieces we were concerned about.

“The tiredness was creeping in so it was really important we thought that through as the game this week at Windsor Park is massive.”