Call up bittersweet for Conor

Conor McLaughlin in action

Conor McLaughlin in action

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Conor McLaughlin is proud to have answered his nation’s call but knows he’s missing out on a big day with Fleetwood Town.

The right-back will be on international duty when Fleetwood face Preston North End at Highbury a week on Sunday - Michael O’Neill’s side facing Finland in a Euro 2016 qualifier in Belfast less than 24 hours earlier.

Former Preston man McLaughlin admits it’s rotten timing to be out of the clash - to be screened live on Sky TV.

“It’s bittersweet, isn’t it,” he told The Gazette.

“It’s two massive games for Northern Ireland, Scotland at Hampden and then Finland in a qualifier.

“It’s always fantastic to be called up for your country but it’s also a big one to miss, Preston.

“It’s especially so given my past.”

The Preston game is the highlight of Fleetwood’s season for many and has a little extra edge, Fleetwood still reeling from their Deepdale defeat, having led 2-0 at the break. A second half Joe Garner hat-trick earned North End the points in a game nobody in football could have predicted five years ago.

McLaughlin said: “I don’t think many people a few years ago would have seen this game coming.

“But especially after the game at Deepdale I think there’ll be a lot of people up for getting a little bit of revenge.”

It’s certainly a clash creating a real buzz around the port but McLaughlin insists for all the excitement the players must focus on tomorrow’s trip to Bradford City

“I think they will be looking forward to it,” he said of the Preston clash.

“After Tuesday we’ve got to focus on Bradford first and foremost but the Preston game is exciting, especially as it’s on Sky as well.

“But all the lads will be concentrating on Bradford too.”

A 2-0 defeat to Coventry on Tuesday put a dent in Fleetwood’s play-off push and McLaughlin believes lessons will be learned.

“We want to bounce back as quickly as possible,” he said.

“Tuesday was a bit of a sucker punch, especially with them scoring so late.

“We knew we weren’t playing so well, maybe we should have just settled for a point at home against a team hitting a bit of form and a big club.

“We should have recognised that ourselves on the pitch.

“It wasn’t to be but we have to pick ourselves up now for tomorrow.

“We need to have better game management, recognising the situation we’re in.”

Inconsistency has proved costly for Fleetwood, who are three points off the play-off pace with nine games remaining.

But the defender believes Fleetwood are still in with a real shout, especially given the inability of any teams around them to put a run together.

He said: “We’ve never had a long run without a result but on the flipside Tuesday came after the first back-to-back wins in a long time.

“We know we have to do better in that respect.

“From now to the end of the season we have to put that right and pick up as many points as possible.

“We’re three points off the play-offs now.

“Nobody’s really picking it up and running with it.

“Sheffield United have been dragged into it now.

“We know ourselves if we can go on a run we have a great chance.”

The Valley Parade pitch could play a big part in deciding Saturday’s game - with McLaughlin admitting it won’t be easy to play football.

He thinks it might be a case of grinding out a result.

“It’s not going to be pleasing on the eye,” he admitted.

“We like to play a bit of football but they’re going to play to their strengths on that pitch.

“We’ve just got to play to the conditions.

“It’s just a case of being as effective as we can and we’ve got to try to get a result.”