Barry Gray praises grit shown by Cliftonville in win over Glenavon
Danske Bank Premiership: Cliftonville 4 Glenavon 2
CLIFTONVILLE manager Barry Gray has praised the grit shown by his players in Saturday's win over Glenavon, and says his side fully intend to remain in the title race beyond the Christmas period.
The Reds had to come from behind at Solitude to secure a 4-2 win over Gary Hamilton's men, who have been among the early season pacesetters in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Rory Donnelly had put Cliftonville into the lead, before Conor McCloskey and Andrew Mitchell goals either side of half-time edged the Lurgan Blues in front. But Donnelly was on target again to level, before goals from Stephen Garrett and Conor McDonald sealed a home win.
“We'd a good day yesterday, but every time I say that it seems to come to an end very quickly,” said Gray.
“You go 1-0 up early on and they equalise with a bad deflected shot and you go in level at halftime and you think to yourself, we'll just continue on. Then we go out in the second-half and concede one very early and it sort of knocks you a wee bit.
“It's easy at that stage to roll over, but then we get the equaliser and other teams playing Glenavon, if they equalise, they'll try to see the game out but, at that stage, we upped the ante and they found it very, very difficult to deal with it, to be fair.”
“We were hungry to push on and win the game,” the Reds boss added.
“There was a patch we had to grind from the front and defend and we done that. People will talk about clearances off the line and all that, but I'm delighted with it to be totally honest, I think it shows a real grit and character.
“We've probably been critical enough of the players that they haven't shown enough of that in months past so, in my opinion, we should praise them when we do see it.”
Top of the table Ballymena have left challenges like Cliftonville in their wake in recent weeks and they continued their impressive run with a 4-2 win away at Warrenpoint on Saturday. However, Gray is more than up for the challenge presented by the Christmas season.
“They've found a system that suits their players. When you're on a run of games and you win them, that momentum is priceless and they're essentially riding the crest of the wave at the minute,” he said.
“I've no doubt, like everyone else, where there'll come a time when they're going to deal with more. They've had a run of home games recently because they played a lot of games away at the start of the season due to the pitch. Probably, that all melted together to give them a run – the same pitch every week, the same team – and they've done really well, but they're not stealing away with it.
“We're quietly just doing our business and improving as we need to. We've two away games now, Ards and Institute, and we need to make sure we get maximum points from that. Then that brings you into the Christmas run of games where you've Crusaders, Linfield, Coleraine, so I think the focus is to get us into that period where we can claw proper points back from teams in and around you.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Linfield also kept in touch with Ballymena with an impressive win over Crusaders at Windsor Park.
Joel Cooper fired the Blues into an 11th-minute lead, before Jimmy Callacher's header made it two soon after. Josh Robinson got the third and a superb Jordan Stewart goal made it 4-0 before Philip Lowry netted a consolation for the Shore Road men.
Coleraine beat bottom of the table Ards 1-0, with Jamie McGonigle scoring the only goal at Ballycastle Road. Glentoran led three times at the Brandywell, but Institute hit back each time to secure a 3-3 draw. John Herron and Robbie McDaid, twice, were on target for the Glens, but a Dylan Davidson own goal plus Aaron Harkin and Joe McCready scores secured the draw, leaving both teams without a league victory since October.
At Stangmore Park, visitors Newry took a late lead through skipper Declan Carville, but Dungannon grabbed a last-gasp draw through Paul McElroy.