Cliftonville hold their heads in Storm Deirdre to defeat Ards
Danske Bank Premiership: Ards 1 Cliftonville 3
CLIFTONVILLE produced another blistering display in front of goal on Saturday as their win over Ards was one of only two Danske Bank Premiership games to withstand Storm Deirdre.
The Reds have now managed 12 goals in their last three league games as they cut the gap to Ballymena at the top of the table to seven points, but manager Barry Gray was just content to get out of the atrocious conditions on the coast at Bangor.
“It was a good three points, although it was a pity about the conditions. I think I'm only thawing out now, never mind the players,” he joked yesterday.
“It was a horrendous day, but we got through it, that's the main thing.”
Cliftonville were 2-0 up within 10 minutes, despite Joe Gormley having an early penalty saved by Ards 'keeper Sam Johnston,
First, Rory Donnelly outmuscled defender Dave Elbert to force the opener and then delivered for Gormley to stab in at the second attempt. Ards were given hope when Donnelly turned the ball into his own net after a corner came into the goalmouth.
But the two-goal lead was restored early in the second-half when a ball from the left by Levi Ives eluded everyone in the box and ended up in the far corner.
“They've all got themselves in the right positions in the last few weeks, to be fair,” said Gray of Cliftonville's free-scoring attack, who also hit five against Dugannon and four against Glenavon in recent weeks.
“I don't think anybody is surprised to see us score goals with the attacking force that we have. Rory Donnelly's come to the fore in the last few weeks in particular and Joe [Gormley] was already in form, so it's a test for most oppositions and long may it last.”
The fact that leaders Ballymena's tie at home to Institute and second-place Linfield's trip to Newry were both postponed due to the weather allowed Cliftonville to cut the gap to the pace setters and Gray is relatively content with the current state of play.
“It closes up that top section, we had a game in hand anyway, that puts us back level in terms of game played,” he said.
“It just makes the table look a bit more realistic, given that all teams are on the same tally. It was important for us not to miss yesterday's game because we didn't want to have another one to catch up on. It's already a very busy period coming up.”
The Cliftonville manager again dismissed renewed reports linking record goalscorer Gormley with a move away from Solitude.
“There is no change and there won't be any change, we can't make that statement strong enough,” Gray insisted.
“People say that, even when we answer like that, that it's not the full truth, but let me tell you, take it from me, Joe Gormley is not for sale, end of story.
“He doesn't want to consider a move, we don't want to see him consider a move, it's very simple: he wants to stay, we want to keep him and he's a massive, massive part of what we need to do going forward.”
Crusaders were also able to make up ground on the rest of the league on Saturday, with their 1-0 home win over Dungannon Swifts the only other Danske Bank Premiership fixture to go ahead.
Jordan Forsythe's ninth minute header proved the difference at Seaview as the Crues recovered from last week's hammering at Windsor Park and their midweek League Cup exit to move seven points ahead of Coleraine in fifth place.