CLIFTONVILLE boss Paddy McLaughlin is delighted that Tuesday evening will see his side finish a run of five successive away fixtures. 

The pacesetters travel to Inver Park to take on Larne (7.45pm kick-off, live on BBC iPlayer) hoping to maintain their place at the summit after a run of three away fixtures against their top-six rivals. 

McLaughlin feels his side have risen to the challenge over recent games and hopes that will continue in East Antrim.  

“What a month it’s been, this will be our fifth away game on bounce on Tuesday,” said McLaughlin. 

“It’s a crazy run of fixtures and after that we’ve got a couple of midweek games and cup semi-finals so there’s a lot of big games and a massive month for us ahead. 

“Up until now the boys have been superb and they’ve risen to the challenge every time we’ve put them on the pitch. I’m sure we’ll continue to do that and hopefully we will. The games are massive, not just for the club but for the supporters too.”

Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Coleraine ensured the Solitude side maintained their place at the top of the table, five-points clear of Larne. 

Although it may have appeared that both sides were happy to set up and avoid defeat, McLaughlin stressed Cliftonville were out to get all three points but was happy to claim a share of the spoils. 

“It may have looked like that; the two sides have shown a lot of respect,” he reflected. 

“We know they’ve got key players and I think we nullified their key players and they nullified ours. Maybe that was the thought on the pitch, but we definitely came here to win because we were disappointed with last week. It took us to go behind before we went at it, so we wanted to go at here from the start. 

“We played some brilliant football. The surface is class, it’s similar to our own and the boys enjoyed playing on it. It was sharp and very lively, and the ball moved very quick. I thought our boys moved the ball around brilliantly throughout the game. 

“It’s a tough place to come, they’re undefeated at home for a reason. They’re a very good side, well drilled and well set-up and they can score against anybody. To come away with a point we’re happy enough.”

McLaughlin insists there is nothing between the top sides in the league and maintains teams must be at their maximum in order to claim victory. 

“There is nothing between the division,” said the Reds’ boss. 

“You see the results every week and you see how competitive and how hard you have to work against any team on any Saturday. 

“You have to be at your maximum, anything less than your maximum you run the risk of losing the game and that’s brilliant for the league. The competition right throughout from top to bottom has been very good for the division and for the fans I’m sure all year. Fair play to all the clubs, they’ve all played their part in that.”

Cricky Gallagher returned from a three-week lay-off against Coleraine and the bench was boosted by the return of Ronan Doherty and Jamie Harney, to the delight of McLaughlin. 

“There are four or five of the boys who have been out the last few weeks,” McLaughlin acknowledged. 

“You saw how thin the squad was. We’d two 15-year-olds on the bench the last couple of weeks and they’ve earned that place. But it’s good to see the senior players coming back. To have those players back available and on the pitch for us is a massive boost going into such a busy schedule. 

“We’ve so, so many tough games coming up so it’d good to see the boys hopefully out of the physio room. The physio has been under pressure the last couple of weeks with all the work he’s been doing. It’s good to get the boys out of there and on the pitch.”