Barry Gray hoping Cliftonville establish winning habit
THERE are few better feelings in football than a last-minute winner and Cliftonville manager Barry Gray said that the Reds’ dressing room was a buoyant place after his side’s dramatic 2-1 win over Glentoran at the Oval on Saturday.
Cliftonville trailed to a John McGuigan goal at half-time but drew level through Joe Gormley after 71 minutes. That set the stage for the late drama as Jay Donnelly popped up to secure a 2-1 win for the visitors in the 92nd minute.
“It was like busting a balloon,” said Gray. “You’re ecstatic after the ball hits the net because you know they have absolutely no time to get back into it.
“You’ve basically scored the goal and headed to the changing rooms to celebrate.
“The priority was picking up the three points and there is a better feeling in the way we did it even though by choice you wouldn’t pick doing it that way.
“It feels even more special, more important, when you leave it to the last minute or two to get the winner.”
While the decisive goal may have arrived on the final roll of the dice, it was by no means a robbery as Gray’s team were the dominant force for the majority of the match.
The manager said that their response in the second half was the perfect way to kick off the new season.
“I thought we were very good and I thought we dominated the play generally throughout the game.
“The first half we probably didn’t open up enough opportunities and they caught us with one.
“I thought we showed great character after the half-time break though and I said that to the players.
“We really bossed it. Our first goal came later than what we had hoped for but to push on and keep going until they got the winner was very encouraging.
“They had the legs and the fitness to do that in the 93rd minute in the first game of the season.
“We emptied ourselves in the second half. A draw wouldn’t have been a disaster but you had targeted the win.”
It may only have been matchday one but with three of their next four games against the sides that finished second to fourth last season – Coleraine, Glenavon and Linfield – Gray said that it was hugely important to start on the front foot.
“You don’t look at the table or points or things like that this early,” he said. “For me, the important thing now is for my players is to get into the habit of winning.
“We have Coleraine at home next week and that’s a massive game. This win gives us the scope to go into that game a bit differently than if we hadn’t of got any points out of the Glentoran game.
“You don’t want to be trying to build from a negative, you want to be building on a positive.
“We got the win and next week the pressure is on us to get another win.
“That’s a nicer pressure to have than if things hadn’t gone to plan on Saturday.
“I’m not saying you’d be chasing your tail but you’d be looking over your shoulder straight away.
“Even if the first week you don’t want to gift anyone the chance to put a bit of distance between you.”
Coleraine 3 Warrenpoint Town 0
COLERAINE opened the new season with an emphatic 3-0 win over Warrenpoint Town at the Showgrounds. Ian Parkhill put them in front after 38 minutes as he gobbled up the rebound after Johnny Parr had saved well from Stephen Lowry before Lowry doubled their advantage just before the interval. Eoin Bradley completed the scoring just after the break as Parr missed the ball when coming out of his box to make a clearance giving ‘Skinner’ the easiest of finishes.
Dungannon Swifts 0 Ballymena United 2
A goal in each half was good enough for Ballymena to leave Stangmore Park with all three points in this season opener. David Jeffrey’s side opened the scoring in fine style 33 minutes in as William Faulkner lobbed Alex Moore after a fine pass from the back from Steven McCullough. Tony Kane made it 2-0 from the penalty spot early in the second half after Chris Hegarty took down former Dungannon player Ryan Mayse. Hegarty was dismissed midway through the second half after another foul on Mayse.
Glenavon 0 Linfield 1
IT was a debut to remember for Daniel Kearns as he scored the only goal in Linfield’s win over Glenavon at Mourneview Park. The home side were left to rue an early penalty miss – Andrew Mitchell blasting his spot-kick over the bar after Chris Casement had handled in the area – and Kearns made them pay as he struck in the 30th minute to secure all three points.
Glentoran 1 Cliftonville 2
CLIFTONVILLE may have left it late to grab a winner against Glentoran, but they were worthy winners at the Oval. Barry Gray’s side started strongly but it was the home side who took the lead in the 34th minute as John McGuigan finished smartly. The Reds remained patient though and drew level 19 minutes from time as Joe Gormley finished confidently. Jay Donnelly secured the win as he struck in the 92nd minute.
Institute 1 Newry City 0
NEWRY City missed a hatful of chances as the newly-promoted side started their season with a disappointing 1-0 loss to fellow Premiership new boys Institute at the Brandywell. It was the first Irish League game at the venue since 1971 and it was settled by Michael McCrudden’s 17th minute goal. The ‘Stute captain finished confidently after a clever Aaron Harkin pass although he did miss a glorious chance to double their advantage in the second half after the ball fell to him after Stephen Maguire had palmed away Callum Moorehead’s excellent chipped effort.
Crusaders v Ards
(tonight, Seaview, 7.45pm)
CHAMPIONS Crusaders start their Gibson Cup defence against an Ards side that performed well at Seaview last year. Colin Nixon’s men drew 0-0 in their first game while they were undone by a 93rd Jordan Owens header on their second visit. Crusaders saw their European exploits for the season come to an end midweek as they drew 1-1 with NK Olimpija Ljubljane, the Slovenia side winning 6-2 on aggregate. Rory Patterson could make his debut after signing a one-year deal with the champions with Owens set to miss out with a hamstring problem.