COLERAINE manager Rodney McAree shared his thoughts on the Bannsiders’ Europa League play-off defeat to Cliftonville last night…
The Stripes led 2-0 and 3-1 in North Belfast courtesy of James McLaughlin’s hat-trick but a contentious penalty award for the Reds sent the game into extra time. The home side would carry the momentum from that equaliser to take the lead through Levi Ives, with Conor McMenamin sealing the win late on with his second of the evening.
Speaking to colerainefc.com, McAree was left perplexed by Steven Gregg’s decision to point to the spot.
“I’m disappointed because we led 2-0 and 3-1 in stages, and we have failed to win,” he said.
“We needed to see the game out, but I thought overall, we defended very well against a good Cliftonville side in the 90 minutes.
“We were excellent in the first 35 minutes, but once they scored, we had to soak up a lot of pressure and I thought we did that until the penalty was awarded.
“I thought the refereeing decision was poor as Ryan Curran is behind Josh, so there is no way he could have fouled him. The tangle of legs occur as the Cliftonville player is searching for a goal and will want to keep the ball alive.
“At full-time we had a group of players who had lost their focus and we conceded two minutes after the restart and that comes from a poor decision made by Steven Gregg.
“I don’t know if he gave the decision because it was in front of the Cliftonville crowd but it crucified us and it is even tougher to take as we had a strong penalty appeal turned down at the other end when Levi Ives blocked Josh Carson inside the box.
“If that occurred in any other area of the pitch, then you would get a free-kick.”
McLaughlin hit his first hat-trick for his boyhood club and McAree was full of praise for the striker.
“I thought James was excellent throughout,” he added.
“He was a little bit tired and we opted to bring on some fresh legs, but it didn’t work and we missed him.
“I said to the players beforehand that we could cause them danger if we got balls into the box and James proved he was an opportunist by scoring two fantastic headers.
“His overhead kick was outrageous but we all know that he has that in the locker.”
The defeat marked the end of the 2018-19 season for the Bannsiders and the manager insists he will start planning for next campaign in the coming days.
“We were all hurting after the game,” he concluded.
“In the coming days, I will have a chat with the players and finalise plans for pre-season.
“It will be important to identify what we need and want in terms of arrivals, but there aren’t many players available due to being in contract at other clubs.
“If we had European football our budget would have been healthier, but the defeat maybe now lessens our options.”