CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin believes that Ballymena United will be as eager to claim the three points on Saturday as his team are to maintain their unbeaten run.

The Reds make the trip to the Ballymena Showgrounds on Saturday to take on the Sky Blues (3pm kick-off) looking to make it 12 games without defeat in all competitions.

United go into the game off the back of a heavy 4-0 defeat to Larne in the County Antrim Shield quarter-final on Tuesday evening, but McLaughlin is adamant that David Jeffrey’s side will be raring to go again on Saturday.

“It’s been a bit of a stop-start season for them so far,” he believes.

“They’re full of good players and they’ve still one of the best managers that the Irish League has ever seen in David Jeffrey, so, they’ll want to get three points as much as we want to maintain our run and get three points.

“It will be a good game. We’re going into it in good form, they’ve had a good week last week with two good results away to Crusaders and Portadown. They’ll be disappointed with their Shield defeat but like ourselves, I’m sure they’ll be raring to go come Saturday.”

McLaughlin is not expecting Levi Ives to be available for Saturday’s clash, having limped off against Larne last weekend and has doubts over Saturday’s match-winner Rory Hale.

The duo were two of 10 changes made to the squad for Tuesday evening’s County Antrim Shield win over Bangor and the Reds’ boss was happy to be able to rotate with a busy schedule ahead.

“It’s looking unlikely for Ives,” McLaughlin accepts.

“Coming off the pitch on Saturday the way he looked in a bit of pain and the same with Rory. We’ll give them every chance, but as it stands it’s unlikely. You never know what could happen.

“I said to Rory: ‘they’re not kicking you because you’re a bad player’ because nobody ever kicked me - they don’t kick you when you’re a bad player.

“They’re trying to stop you from playing and he’s like a wee rubber ball. Every time he hits the ground he bounces straight back up again - you can’t put him down.

“He was captain of the team (against Larne on Saturday) and he led them by example and scored two brilliant goals for us. It was a brilliant performance and eventually the knocks took effect at the end, so we took him out to protect him, but he was superb right throughout.

“Tonight, we were able to rest 10 players, which was brilliant as 10 players got minutes under their belt, which they needed.

“It’s important going into the next couple of weeks of fixtures as there are a lot of midweek games and we need to be top of our fitness levels - that’s all that matters.”

McLaughlin will be hoping that Jonny Addis will pick up where he left off against his former employers on Saturday.

Addis was released at the end of last season by Ballymena United and quickly snapped up by the Solitude side and his early form has certainly pleased his new manager.

“We were delighted to get him on board and we understood how good a player he is,” acknowledged McLaughlin.

“When he became available it was an area that we felt that we should strengthen because we had Breen and O’Reilly out long-term, and we only really had Jamie Harney fit and available at that stage.

“When we got him in, we were delighted because he’s excelled in his performances and in the games that he’s played. His training application as a person within the changing room – he’s blown us all away. He’s top-class and a great ambassador for the club because he is one of the nicest people you could meet and what a player on the pitch.”

Paddy McLaughlin has been impressed by Jamie McDonagh

Paddy McLaughlin has been impressed by Jamie McDonagh

The Derry native has also been impressed with summer signing Jamie McDonagh and was particularly happy with his work-rate at the weekend.

“That’s McDonagh for you- he works hard and worked his socks off right throughout,” reflected McLaughlin.

“That’s just the game and the way it plays out when you play in that position he’s in, sometimes you get frustrated at not getting on the ball or delivering an inch-perfect pass every time. But the shift he put in, he covered an unbelievable amount of ground for his team-mates and the boys were telling him at half-time that the moment will come are you good enough to deliver. And there’s the answer.

“He dropped the ball on Rory’s head for the second goal and that’s what he’s about. He’ll work hard for the team throughout and when the big moments come, he’ll always take them. 

“It’s not all about every delivery being on the money, great finishes and great passes - it’s all about hard work as well too.

“That’s the basis and in the 90th minute of the game he is chasing after people and throwing himself into tackles, which is probably something he doesn’t get recognised for.”