CLIFTONVILLE interim boss Declan O’Hara doesn’t believe it is right to criticise his players in the wake of their defeat to Linfield at the weekend.

The Reds ended their regulation season with a 2-0 defeat to the Blues, who secured European football with victory at Solitude.

O’Hara felt his players gave their maximum against David Healy’s side and had believes it is vital they continue to stick together ahead of their play-off semi-final, next midweek.

“Last week the boys were excellent,” O’Hara acknowledged.

“Again, I’m not going to criticise my boys because they’ve emptied the tank for me again.

“You look at the two goals, it was set play, a free header in the box and then a penalty. I think our keeper made one save in the first half, that’s it.

“It wasn’t as if Linfield battered us. Our boys worked hard, and I won’t criticise them because they’ve gave me everything and they have done since I’ve taken over.

“They’ve been brilliant for me and it’s important now that we stick together and get ready for whoever we play in the play-offs.”

O’Hara stressed that the last vacant European spot is very much up for grabs, with anyone capable of claiming it and whilst admitting he is disappointed to be without Rory Hale-who was sent off late-on against Linfield isn’t going to further criticise the midfield playmaker.

“Anybody can win it,” believes O’Hara.

“It’s a semi-final and final and almost a cup competition, you have to go out and win that first game in the cup.

“I’m disappointed that we won’t have Rory. It must have been a rush of blood, it’s not like him. He can get about the pitch, and he does a tackle that is probably a poor tackle and the referee gives him a red card.

“I’m not going to complain and slate referees and I’m not going to slate my own player. It’s football and it happens. It is what it is.

“What that does is give me another headache to think of who else is going to go in and play there for him. He’s a massive miss for us and we all know that because he has been quality all season.

“He’s know himself and he doesn’t need me to stand here and get into him because I won’t do that.”

The interim boss acknowledged that Hale’s red card could have manifested at any stage throughout the last few weeks and is adamant that somebody else is able to fill in for the 26-year old.

“He’s been brilliant this season for us, there is no doubt,” acknowledged O’Hara.

“What happened there today- it happens. It could have happened last week or the week before. It happens in football. I’ve done it myself back in the day.

“His energy levels are always through the roof and his GPS results are always in the top one or two. Again, somebody else is going to have to take the opportunity to go in and play for him.”