Cliftonville's best should be too much for Ballymena says manager Barry Gray
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville v Ballymena United (tonight, Solitude, 7.45pm)
CLIFTONVILLE manager Barry Gray is confident his side will “have too much” for Ballymena tonight if they reproduce the energy and intensity they showed against Coleraine last Saturday.
Gray had given the Cliftonville players a no-holds-barred rollicking after lacklustre 2-0 losses against Linfield and Crusaders over the festive season and his words had the desired effect as the Reds recaptured their early season form a last weekend with a performance that should have seen them take all three points against Coleraine.
Jay Donnelly missed two gilt-edged scoring chances late in the game but despite the scoreless draw, Gray says the performance has restored morale at the Solitude outfit.
“We didn't perform against the two top teams and we weren't happy with them (the players) at all,” Gray explained yesterday.
“In fairness to them what they produced on Saturday against Coleraine was the complete opposite.
“We didn't get the three points – we should have because we were the best team by a million miles – but it was all about the performance for us and getting back to what we had been doing right.
“When things aren't going right and you call the players out on that it's not a reaction you're looking for, it's a performance and in fairness they took what I said on the chin – they hadn't much choice to be perfectly honest – and they delivered a performance that puts us on a better footing going into tomorrow's game.
“I said to them that dishing it out for one game isn't good enough, they need to go out now tomorrow and give a similar level of performance.”
Ballymena go into tonight's game having held second-placed Coleraine to a 1-1 draw on St Stephen's Day and then beating third-placed Glenavon 3-1 last Saturday. David Jeffrey's side are now sixth in the table, 10 points behind Cliftonville who are fourth on 41 and need a win to maintain their push for a top three finish.
“Ballymena have hit a run of form there and in recent games they've been very, very good,” said Gray.
“Under the radar a wee bit they have jumped up the table and re-established themselves. It's a hectic fixture list at this time of the season and I know David was talking about being down to the bare bones last Saturday and calling on players to do things they don't normally do, but we're all in the same boat.
“If we can produce the performance we did last Saturday I think we'll have too much for them.”
Cliftonville skipper Chris Curran – who recently signed a new contract at the club - looks certain to miss tonight's game with a hamstring injury but new signing Conor McDonald – who played for Gray at Warrenpoint Town – will be included in the squad for the first time.
“It's good to get a good young midfielder in,” said Gray.
“He will give us a bit of depth and strength around the midfield area and we need to strengthen and give ourselves more options in that area.
“It will take him a few weeks to get up to scratch and get settled in but he will hit the ground running and he'll be in tomorrow night's squad.”