We need to stick together and come through slump: Cliftonville boss Barry Gray
Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Cliftonville v Ards (Solitude, today, 3pm)
CLIFTONVILLE’S under-fire manager Barry Gray has backed his players to emerge from the wreckage of the last few weeks to start climbing the table and push for a European play-off spot between now and the end of the season.
Gray held onto his job after discussions with Reds officials prior to Tuesday night’s training session at Solitude.
The Reds suffered a dramatic slump, losing four league games and crashing out of the Irish Cup, which put Gray under the spotlight.
A sizeable number of the home fans chanted “out, out, out’ at the final whistle of last Saturday’s 1-0 cup defeat to the Swifts with Gray acknowledging afterwards his position was under threat.
But after receiving the much-needed backing from the Solitude board, Gray is hoping to get back to winning ways at home to Ards this afternoon.
“Confidence is obviously low,” said Gray. “The fashion of some of the defeats have been hard to take. What we need to do as a group is stay together and realise what we’re good at.
“I know there are areas where we need to strengthen in January or the summer when players become available.
“I thought in front of goal against Dungannon we were a wee bit rash and that’s because there was a bit of confidence knocked out of the team in recent weeks.”
Just before Christmas the Reds were knocking on the door of third spot after winning three games on the bounce but they crashed to a 6-4 defeat to Institute before a few more comprehensive defeats to Crusaders, Linfield and Coleraine.
But Gray explained the current team hasn’t had a “massive amount of time” together and accepted more quality was required in certain areas.
“I knew what I was coming into,” Gray said.
“I knew some of the people at the club. I knew what Cliftonville stood for, and that appealed to me massively. I’ve only been here 18 months - I feel like I’ve been here 18 years!
“I’m treated like I have been here for a long time. What Cliftonville stands for is what I buy into, that ethos, that togetherness, the notion that when things are hard you don’t roll over.
“That’s typically me in life. And there are always people around you, who back you and lift you and want you to succeed.
“That’s what the board has done for me. My job is to go and repay that by getting performances and results going forward.”
While he fully accepts the concession of 18 goals in five defeats falls way below the high standards set at Solitude in recent seasons, Gray outlined some of the problems the side has encountered that have contributed to the slump.
“This isn’t a team that has been formed over the last two or three seasons. This is a team that has been largely formed over the last six to nine months. Richard Brush is just in, Ryan Catney is just back from a horrific leg break, Rory Donnelly was missing the first 10 games of the season, Joe Gorman is just in the door, Ruairi Harkin was injured for a long period... The length of time the squad has played together isn’t massive.
“Richard Brush, our ’keeper, took a stroke in the middle of everything.
“Before he got sick he was just coming to his peak. But he had to be thrown in at the deep end [against Crusaders on St Stephen’s Day] because ‘Bam’ [Neeson] was suspended. He hadn’t trained properly for six weeks and was recovering from a stroke."
He added: “I’m focused on what I’m doing and so are the players. We need to strengthen going forward, whether it’s this window or the next window. While we are where we are in the table there is still a massive amount to play for and European qualification is still achievable.”
Danske Bank Irish Premiership stats
Cliftonville v Ards
BARRY Gray will want to ease the pressure on himself and his players and get back to winning ways after a five-game losing streak. Ards are rooted to the foot of the table and also crashed out of the Irish Cup last week to Carrick.
Ballymena United v Dungannon Swifts
BALLYMENA will be licking their wounds after losing to Linfield in the Co Antrim Shield semi-final in mid-week. This home clash against the Swifts will test their mettle and league title credentials.
Prediction: Ballymena United
Coleraine v Glenavon
COLERAINE are showing signs of life after Oran Kearney, winning three out of their last four. Glenavon endured a fairly miserable Christmas period and are under pressure for fourth spot from today’s hosts.
Institute v Glentoran
INSTITUTE are one of the good news stories of the season. Just promoted, their possession game has won many plaudits. Sitting in seventh, they could take advantage of confidence being at a low ebb at Glentoran.
Linfield v Warrenpoint Town
THE Blues’ excellent defensive performances have saw them rise to the top but they could have some awkward moments at home to an ever improving ‘Point side.