We have to burst Crusaders' bubble says Crusaders boss Gray
CLIFTONVILLE saw off Warrenpoint Town, eventually, in the Irish Cup on Saturday, and have been handed a mouth-watering clash in the last 16 against north Belfast rivals Crusaders.
The Reds have not won the Irish Cup since 1979, and their attempt to bridge that gap will face a stern test on Saturday, February 3.
Reds’ boss Barry Gray is aware the Crues are enjoying a period of dominance against the men from Solitude, a mastery that he is very keen to end.
“We have to burst the Crusaders’ bubble,” insisted Gray.
“I’m told that it’s three years, or so many games since we last beat them – even though that’s not a stat of mine, and it’s not a stat of the current players.
“Our own stat this season is that they’ve beat us three times. On paper, it’s one of those draws where you think: ‘Somebody give us a bit of luck, give us a junior side, or give us something that we can get our teeth into a wee bit better’.
“But in reality, if you want to win the Irish Cup, you’re going to have to beat the better teams at some stage or another. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the sixth round, the semi-final or the final.
“And I think that the players will be massively up for it, given our last encounter with them.”
Saturday’s game was a dramatic affair, with Martin Murray giving Warrenpoint the lead after six minutes, before Jamie Harney and Ross Lavery put the Reds in the driving seat.
A second Murray goal four minutes from time ensured extra time was necessary. In that period Harney brought up his hat-trick before Darius Roohi scored a consolation for the Co Down side.
Cliftonville had Jamie McGovern sent off on a straight red card after 66 minutes, while Warrenpoint manager Matthew Tipton, who had brought himself on late in the game, also walked for two yellow cards.
Gray paid tribute to the unlikely goalscoring hero.
“We saw a bit of everything,” laughed Gray.
“I don’t know what sort of odds you would have got for that [a Harney hat-trick], but I would say they would have been fairly steep.
“I’m delighted for Jamie. Obviously he’s not a player who would be very regularly on the scoresheet for us, with one let alone three, but I can’t fault him on Saturday.
“He was in the right place at the right time, and he was brave enough to go at it and take his goals well. To get three in one game is special.”
Saturday’s encounter was also a feisty affair. And while Gray accepted, and expected that Warrenpoint would, as underdogs, naturally give their all to try and win, he said that in his view, they occasionally overstepped the mark.
“It was a game that I wasn’t looking forward to because too many times I have been on the other side, with teams like Warrenpoint going to teams like Cliftonville,” said Gray.
“And when it’s a cup scenario like that, they have absolutely every right to go and throw everything, and the kitchen sink at the opposition. And they very much did do that on Saturday.
“They turned it into a very physical battle, and I’m being nice in saying physical. I thought at times that it was totally inappropriate, if I’m totally honest.
“If you looked at the condition at some of our players on Sunday morning, in terms of some of the hits that they’ve taken – you would maybe wonder how only one was sent off.”
Gray pulled no punches as regards the displays of some of his players after the recent league defeat to Crusaders. He was asked whether he was happy that he had got a decent response from his players.
“I don’t think it’s about the response,” insisted Gray.
“It was about being realistic in terms of where we were at that point. And we’re still there, and I think we’re still highlighting the fact that for us to do what we need to do – we need to have that in our game for every game.
“And it doesn’t matter what competition it is, it doesn’t matter who the opposition is.”
Premiership sides Linfield, Coleraine, Ballymena, Ards, Glentoran, Dungannon, Crusaders, Glenavon and Ballinamallard all went through in the Cup on Saturday, with Coleraine hammering Lisburn Distillery 7-0, Linfield’s routing Glebe Rangers 5-0, Crusaders 2-0 winners against Maiden City, Ballymena 4-0 winners against Moyola Park, Ballinamallard securing a 4-2 victory over Immaculata, Glenavon dumping out Carrick 3-1 after extra-time, Glentoran defeating Lurgan Celtic 2-1, Dungannon Swifts comfortably seeing off Limavady United 4-0 and Ards 4-1 winners against Crumlin Star.