CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin doesn’t believe there is a good time to beat Linfield ahead of the weekend's top of the table clash.
The Blues make the trip to Solitude on Saturday evening (5.30pm kick-off) sitting a point ahead of the hosts going into the final five games of the season.
David Healy’s side have had two wins in the head-to-head games this season, with a 1-0 win at Windsor Park in the league and a penalty shoot-out victory in the semi-final of the County Antrim Shield with the other two fixtures ending in a draw.
In order to beat the Blues, McLaughlin acknowledges his side need to be at their maximum against the team he deems to be the “top dogs” in the division.
“Any time is a good time to beat Linfield,” he insists.
“They’re top dogs in the division, a really strong outfit and they’ve a brilliant manager in David Healy, not just as a manager but as a person - he’s a brilliant man. To beat Linfield you have to be at your maximum to do that, so that’s our aim.
“Our aim is to be at our maximum on Saturday, hopefully get the first win of the season against them - it would be no better time.
“That’s the challenge now in front of us. I think there has only been one goal in the fixtures this season. We were close in the County Antrim and they scored late-on, an injury-time equaliser before it went to penalties.
“We were disappointed we drew at Windsor Park, and it has always been the odd goal. It was 1-0 again at the second fixture at Windsor, we broke away a few times late-on and could have scored.
“It’s two really good footballing sides, well-matched and we’ll go head-to-head with them on Saturday, see where it takes us and then we move onto the following week.”
McLaughlin has attempted to play down the big billing and is confident that if a side wins all of their five post-split fixtures, they will end up holding the Gibson Cup come the season’s conclusion.
“There is so much to play for and so much at stake right throughout the season, not just Saturday,” he outlined.
“I don’t want to be giving Saturday too much of a billing because it doesn’t deserve that. It’s three points, just like the next four (games) after it.
“The league will not be won on Saturday, it won’t be lost on Saturday. It’s a good three points but we’ll be saying that the following week against Larne and the following week against Coleraine and Crusaders.
“We’re not giving it anymore of a billing than it deserves. It’s a big three points, but they all are.
“Anyone that wins their last five games deserves the title because of where we’re at in the season. Obviously with the intensity and going into the game knowing how big and how difficult their opponent is going to be. If anyone wins the five games, they deserve it.”
The Derry native was pleased with his side’s bouncebackability from their Irish Cup defeat at Crusaders with a 2-0 win over Portadown on Tuesday evening and put it down to being a ‘bump in the road’.
“It’s character and mentality and that’s what it boils down to,” he insists.
“We came away from the game on Friday night and we were disappointed with the second-half performance, but we’d two big calls that went against us too with chalking off two of our goals. We can’t be too down when we see the work, effort and play that the boys have shown right throughout the season.
“That was only a bump in the road on Friday night and the boys have responded brilliantly. It was a good three points and now we head into the split with five massive games.”
Joe Gormley scored either side of the break in the midweek victory over Portadown and McLaughlin admits being worried when his talisman went down holding his knee in the aftermath of the opener.
“You’re always worried when you see any player go down, none more so than Joe Gormley,” he admitted.
“He’s called ‘Joe the Goal’ for a reason and whenever you see him go down injured… when you see him go down to tie his laces sometimes you get worried. To see him go down holding his knee, we were a bit worried but he bounced up again, gave us the thumbs up and went about his business in the second half.
“He’s a phenomenal player with a phenomenal goal scoring record and to see him get back on his feet and do the same again in the second half, we were delighted because he’s hit top form at the right time of the season for us.
“Last month he was excellent, and he’s started April now in a rich vein of form - he’s continued that on. We’re delighted that he’s in top form and fully fit.”