CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin believes his side have been the dominant team in the North Belfast derbies this season.
Crusaders make the trip to Solitude this evening (7.45pm kick-off) for a winner takes all play-off semi-final clash.
The Shore Road outfit go into the game with an unbeaten derby record this season, having won the first at Seaview and having rescued late equalisers in the other three games, including last Tuesday’s warm-up affair.
But McLaughlin is backing his team to learn from their past mistakes and carry a greater threat in attack.
“We’ve played them three or four times this year and we have been delighted with the performance in each of them games,” recalled McLaughlin.
“I thought we were the dominant team on every occasion, but we have been sucker punched in three of them with late, late goals. That’s in the past and we have learnt hard lessons in that, and we look forward to the game and we look forward to the atmosphere that the supporters will create in here.
“If we can create the performance that we’ve done every time we’ve played them and if we are more clinical in front of goal, we’ve got full confidence we can go and do the business and take us into the European play-off final.”
McLaughlin’s options in attack were boosted on Saturday by the return of Joe Gormley from a five-month absence through injury.
Gormley played half an hour in Saturday’s defeat against Linfield and McLaughlin credited the 31-year-old for his determination to play again this season.
“Joe is capable of making a massive difference,” McLaughlin believes.
“He frightens defenders and intimidates people because they know how ruthless he is and they know how clinical he is if they slip-up in any way at all. He can punish you in a split second, so having him back available, we are delighted.
“He’s put his body on the line for the team because he probably shouldn’t be back until pre-season. The medical advice that he got was not to come back for four or five weeks, but he’s put himself forward and has been training hard for the last couple of weeks and has been pushing and pushing to get involved.
“We’ve been holding him back for that reason to have him fresh going into the play-off games. Now he is available, it gives the whole club and the supporters a lift seeing that Joe Gormley is back in action.”
McLaughlin doesn’t expect to have Jamie Harney available for the play-offs but is confident that Odhran Casey could step in if needed and was delighted to see Ryan O’Reilly come through unscathed at the weekend.
“I don’t think Harney will play again this season, along with Garry Breen,” he revealed.
“Both are probably long-term injuries, but Ryan O’Reilly was back out on the pitch today. It was important for us to get Ryan back onto the pitch. He’s over his latest hamstring injury- which has been niggling for him on a while.
“We took him out of the firing line for a couple of weeks to rest that injury and I think we’ve done that well. He played the 90 minutes and no effects from it so Ryan might come back in.
“Odhran Casey’s performance gives us food for thought. If you’re good enough you’re old enough and there is no doubt that if Odhran gets the nod for Tuesday night he’s more than capable of going out and doing the business for us. With Harney and Breen both long-term injuries, then Casey comes into contention for Tuesday.”
McLaughlin is backing on the support from the fans on Tuesday evening and insists they have never let the players down.
“Having the fans is vitally important,” McLaughlin insists.
“You saw the atmosphere today; the place should have been rocking against Linfield. They were here to win a league title and they probably could have filled the ground with their own supporters. It’s disappointing to see the fans being locked out of that and taking away that experience.
“Hopefully on Tuesday night when they’re here, they are here in their numbers, and they are as vocal as always because they never let us down when we need them and we need them on Tuesday night.”