Barry Gray's time at Cliftonville may not be over just yet
CLIFTONVILLE’S under-fire manager Barry Gray could still ride out the storm and be given more time to prove he is the man to lead the Reds.
It was anticipated Gray would lose his job in the hours after crashing out of the Irish Cup at home to Dungannon Swifts last weekend, especially after enduring a terrible Christmas programme where they lost four games on the trot and conceded 17 goals.
However, the fact that the Cliftonville board has remained tight-lipped since Saturday’s morale-sapping cup loss may mean Gray could still be in charge for Saturday’s league game against Ards at Solitude.
The sixth-placed Reds are out of the title race and all cup competitions but the club still clings to the forlorn hope that a European play-off spot is still achievable.
Before their 6-4 loss to Institute on December 22, Gray’s men had won three league games on the bounce and were pushing for third spot.
They hit a combined 12 goals in wins over Dungannon Swifts, Glenavon and Ards and it looked as though the club had turned the corner after a difficult start to the campaign – but losing four games over the Christmas period put Gray on the back foot again.
It was no surprise a sizeable number of the Cliftonville fans chanted “Out, out, out” following last Saturday’s Irish Cup defeat to the Swifts.
The team performed better than they had done in their four consecutive defeats to Institute, Crusaders, Linfield and Coleraine but it was still lacking in terms of urgency and tempo.
Afterwards, Gray admitted that his position was extremely precarious in light of the discord among the club’s fans.
However, it is understood Gray still has the support and trust of the Cliftonville players which may be enough to keep him in the job for the foreseeable future.
But how the manager and the board deal with more chants from the home supporters over the coming weeks – should they retain Gray’s services – could still prompt a managerial change.
Although the Reds can still conceivably qualify for Europe, there is little to play for between now and the end of the season – so the board may feel there is no need to rush to a decision, as a new manager would have no silverware to chase.
If the Reds board was thinking of changing their manager the time to do it was before the Irish Cup clash with Dungannon last Saturday.
The fact that Gray has the requisite qualifications to coach in Europe is in his favour as not many local coaches possess a pro licence.
It is understood Cliftonville officials discussed Gray’s position after their 4-1 defeat to Coleraine on New Year’s Day.
Gray took over from Gerard Lyttle – who moved to Sligo Rovers – towards the end of the 2016/17 season. His time at Solitude has been something of a roller-coaster but against the odds he delivered European football and reached the Irish Cup final last season.
The season was only a few weeks old when Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor publicly backed Gray after growing rumours the former Warrenpoint Town manager had ‘lost the dressing room’.
At that time the Reds had suffered defeats to Warrenpoint and Newry City and had slipped to seventh in the league.
In September, Lawlor said: “In this day and age people say: ‘Change the manager’. I can tell you the board has no intention of doing that. The board is 110 per cent behind Barry Gray and he will deliver for Cliftonville.
“But this isn’t about Barry Gray. This is about us as a club: the board, the management, the players and supporters. We’re going through a rough period at the moment but it’s not a time for knee-jerk reactions.”
Four months down the line, the same logic could still apply.
The NI Football League can confirm dates and times for all the outstanding Danske Bank Premiership matches still to be played this season.
Tuesday 22 January 2019 (kick-off: 7.45pm)
Newry City v Linfield
Ballymena United v Institute
Friday 1 February 2019 (kick-off: 7.45pm)
Newry v City v Glentoran
Tuesday 5 February 2019 (kick-off: 7.45pm)
Glenavon v Cliftonville
Dungannon Swifts v Coleraine
Tuesday 26 February 2019 (kick-off: 7.45pm)
Glentoran v Warrenpoint Town
Ballymena United v Cliftonville
Newry City v Linfield
Please note that the Newry City v Warrenpoint Town is now back to the original date of Saturday 26th January (kick off: 3pm).