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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Darren Fullerton

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin laments "criminal" late collapse at the Showgrounds

Paddy McLaughlin has warned Cliftonville their Gibson Cup challenge will become a distant memory if they continue conceding "soft goals" and dropping “criminal” points in the title race.

The Solitude men were 2-0 up and seemingly in control with time running out in Friday night’s clash with Ballymena United at the Showgrounds.

But a Leroy Millar shot that squirmed past Luke McNicholas in the 88th minute and a 92nd minute penalty from Paul McElroy saw the Sky Blues salvage an unlikely point.

Instead of closing the gap to two points on Linfield at the summit, McLaughlin's men are now four points off David Healy’s leaders and three behind Glentoran who both play on Saturday.

“It’s definitely a sickener,” said McLaughlin. “We controlled a lot of the game and at 2-0 up I thought we were comfortable enough.

“We were probably thinking about the final whistle instead of seeing out the final four or five minutes and it came back to bite us.

“We have to learn to batten down the hatches when pressure comes our way and see out games.

“We can’t be dropping points like this and expect to be clinging onto the coattails of Linfield and Glentoran at the top of the table.”

It isn't lost on McLaughlin that Cliftonville led Linfield 2-1 on Tuesday night, only to ship a late equaliser and surrender two points in the process.

They also allowed Glentoran striker Jay Donnelly a free header from a corner in a recent 2-1 defeat at Solitide, a fixture they also led 1-0.

“We can’t keep talking about it and tip-toeing around it,” said McLaughlin. “We can’t keep conceding soft goals and it’s a message I maybe have to force home.

“As a team, we have so much talent across the pitch and it’s criminal that we’re conceding and dropping points the way we are.

“We’re really disappointed with the manner of the two goals we conceded against Ballymena and it’s something we need to work on.

“It’s disappointing for the fans, but it’s also frustrating for the players that they’re only coming away with a point after all their hard work.”

While McLaughlin offered a frank assessment of his team’s defensive shortcomings at the Showgrounds, he is confident his players will learn lessons and bounce back.

“We win together and we lose together," he said. "We have to learn from this and we'll come back stronger.

“The performance was excellent but the result was disappointing. It’s important we get back on our feet quickly.”

McLaughlin had some sympathy for Jamie McDonagh whose two wonder strikes were eclipsed by Ballymena's dramatic fightback and overshadowed by two dropped points from a position of strength.

The in-form winger volleyed home a stunning opener from the edge of the area in the 18th minute and also steered home a second with the outside of his boot to make it 2-0 in the 81st minute.

“Jamie played brilliantly and scored two fantastic goals,” he said. “We should be coming away talking about him and we’re not. We’re talking about how disappointed we are.”

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