Cliftonville: Paddy McLaughlin's side lack leaders on the pitch - Reds legend Chris Scannell

Cliftonville are fifth after picking up 10 points from six Irish Premiership games
Cliftonville are fifth after picking up 10 points from six Irish Premiership games

Former Cliftonville striker Chris Scannell believes the Reds' lack of leadership is a reason why they've fallen behind Crusaders and Linfield.

Cliftonville finished fifth in the Irish Premiership last season and have already lost at home to both Crusaders and Linfield this term.

"I don't think there are leaders on the pitch," Scannell said on the Irish League Behaviour podcast.

"I remember going back to the Irish Cup semi-final against Linfield.

"I had just missed an absolute sitter at 1-1 and then Linfield go up and score. He [Barry Johnston] grabbed me by the scruff of the neck.

"I'm walking around with my head down and he says 'you owe me one' - and that's what you need to really gee you up. This side are shy in that department - Crusaders and Linfield are ahead of them."

Johnston, who won the Irish Premiership title with Scannell in 2013 and 2014, echoed the former forward's comments, adding that you can see Cliftonville's deficiencies in midfield come to the fore when they are playing title contenders like Linfield and Crusaders.

Chris Scannell believes Cliftonville would benefit from a combative figure like Barry Johnston
Chris Scannell believes Cliftonville would benefit from a combative figure like Barry Johnston

"I just think they're a bit light in midfield," said Johnston.

"Especially in derby games and big games, Crusaders can always go back and call on Declan Caddell, Linfield have Jamie Mulgrew, who has a lot of experience and isn't annoyed by the physical side of the game.

"I think Cliftonville have good footballers in midfield, talented footballers, but they need someone who can mix it up a bit more."

'You'd be delighted if you were a centre-half'

Johnston added he believes Paddy McLaughlin's preferred 4-3-3 hinders all-time leading Cliftonville goalscorer Joe Gormley, who has been seen playing on the left wing at times.

The Reds found great success under the late Tommy Breslin's 4-4-2, which featured Gormley and Liam Boyce up top, and Johnston believes McLaughlin should explore a similar system if he is to get the best out of his main goal-getter.

"I personally think 4-4-2 is the only formation that works in the Irish League," said Johnston.

"I think Cliftonville played a 4-3-3 last week, with Gormley out wide. You'd be delighted if you were a centre-half and he was playing on the left-hand side.

"I'd rather see him coming inside and going up against the centre-halves. Gormley, Ruaidhri Donnelly or Ryan Curran, any two of those are more of a threat than just Joe by himself, so I think it should be 4-4-2."

George McMullan, who captained the Reds to their back-to-back Gibson Cup triumphs under Breslin, believes that while the current rebuilding process is understandable given the personnel who have departed in recent years, they are some way off being in a position to reclaim their place at the Irish League summit.

"I think they're a bit off it at the minute," said McMullan.

"Talking to some of the players, they are buzzing with Paddy [McLaughlin].

"He has a formation which he likes. I know we don't like seeing Gormley playing off the left, but he seems to still have a smile on his face. It doesn't look like Paddy's going to change his formation too much.

"I think if the players buy into it, they're moving in the right direction, but I think they're a good bit away at the minute."

You can hear more from Scannell, Johnston and McMullan on Irish League Behaviour, which is available to subscribe and listen to on the BBC Sounds App.