PADDY McLaughlin insists Cliftonville will go into Saturday’s North Belfast derby with Crusaders ‘buzzing’ but wary of the threat of Stephen Baxter’s side.
The Reds make the short trip to Seaview (3pm kick-off) looking to build on their strong start to the campaign against a Crusaders side that bounced back from their opening day defeat at Linfield with a comfortable win against Portadown.
McLaughlin believes that the form book will go out the window on derby day and is adamant his side aren’t getting carried away by their winning start to the season.
“We’ll definitely go to Seaview buzzing,” McLaughlin predicts. When you win three games in-a-row, you go to any game full of confidence, but we’re also very wary how good Crusaders are.
“In North Belfast derbies I don’t think that form matters because both sides will go at it from the first whistle. It’s important for us not to get too carried away.
“It’s only three games (played). We don’t look at the league table until there is at least 10 to 15 matches played so I don’t think anybody is getting too carried away. We should be confident and I’m sure the fans are buzzing. But we’re realistic in what we’re doing here and we know that Saturday is just another battle and another tough game so that’s the only thing we’re concerned about when we wake up in the morning.”
Crusaders proved a thorn in Cliftonville’s side last season, popping up with injury-time equalisers in three of the four meetings during the league season, but so far this term McLaughlin’s side has been able to manage games better, to the manager’s satisfaction.
“It’s experience and learning difficult lessons,” McLaughlin reflects.
“Sometimes you have to learn a lesson the hard way before you actually learn it. We’ve done that last year and we were sickened so many times with late equalisers. Hopefully that’s it and we’ve learned that lesson and what it really means now to batten down the hatches late-on whenever we are defending a lead. That’s part of the game and the development of the players.
“From they reported back for pre-season I could see a change in the mentality, they’ve been superb in their training and in games.
“The new additions have added and definitely brought a different mentality with them. We’re delighted that they have that on board, Colin Coates coming in recently has added to that.
“He’s another brilliant addition, a born leader, a born winner and to have that experience in the group and on the pitch to.
“You can see it’s rubbing off on players like Addis, Gallagher and McDonagh – they’ve brought that experience and that quality with them.”
Colin Coates could be in line to make his first Reds appearance against the side he captained to every domestic honour and spent 18-years with and McLaughlin isn’t concerned with throwing the 35-year-old in at the deep end on the Shore Road.
“He could score the winner on Saturday - it would be great to see,” joked McLaughlin.
“I’m sure he still has a lot of close friends at Crusaders and rightly so. He was there 18 years and he’s a club legend. But Coatesy is a brilliant professional, he knows himself that he is one of our boys now. He’s a Cliftonville man and no doubt if a 50-50 ball comes in he’s putting his body on the line to keep that ball out of the net because once you come in the gate and sign the form you’re part of the family at Cliftonville.
“You’ll always be treated with the utmost respect and he’ll get in abundance at the club with the players and fans and they’ll love him for it. I’m sure he’ll respond to it with his leadership and I’m sure big performances right throughout the season.”
McLaughlin acknowledged his side’s start to the season has been tough but doesn’t think it will ease over the course of the season.
“It’s been a tough set of fixtures,” acknowledges McLaughlin.
“That’s the league that we’re in, there is nothing between the sides when you look at top to bottom: Carrick have been excellent, Dungannon play some brilliant football; so, anyone who thinks it’s going to be a given or any games are an easy three points are very foolish.
“There is no easy three-points in this league and this year will prove that right throughout the season. There will be points won and lost right down the division, up and down the country and in all ends of the table.
“You appreciate the wins when they come your way because to get them you’ve got to work really hard and play really well.”