Barry Gray admits that Cliftonville’s priorities changed the moment Glenavon went 2-0 up in yesterday’s Danske Bank Premiership encounter at Solitude.
Though Joe Gormley pulled one back for the 10-man hosts almost instantly, the Lurgan Blues would soon restore the two-goal lead they held until the finish, securing a result that the boss believes ends the Reds’ hopes of claiming third place in the table.
“It’s still mathematically possible but, being realistic, I don’t think anybody sees it happening now,” he says.
“We’re six points off it with two games left to play, so we’d need to win both our games and hope that Glenavon and Linfield each lose twice and we’d have to turn the goal difference round too – not impossible, but not probable either.
“I’ve told the players that this result isn’t what’s cost us third place – it’s too many results like this over the course of the season and that lack of consistency we keep talking about.
“When we went 2-0 down against Glenavon and with a man sent off, I had to start managing things differently. We went three at the back and I know some supporters were wondering why another defender wasn’t brought on after Jaimie McGovern’s red card but had I done that, people would probably have questioned why a defender was being brought on in a game we had to win.
“In that situation, you have to start looking at things differently. When you consider what’s ahead of us in the next few weeks, the way we went about things in the game had to change.”
Gray feels that Glenavon pulled ahead just as Cliftonville were beginning to enjoy greater control of proceedings but refuses to be critical of goalkeeper Brian Neeson for his role in the visitors’ quickfire double – although he believes referee Evan Boyce’s decision to dismiss McGovern was harsh.
“We were off it in the first-half and, for whatever reason, we deviated from the game plan,” he explains.
“In the second-half, we improved but individual mistakes have cost us. Let’s not forget that individual brilliance from the same player had kept us in it in the first-half, but we’ve found ourselves 2-0 behind and a man down very quickly.
“I’m not sure it’s a red card. The ball has gone beyond the keeper and, yes, Jaimie has fouled him [Joel Cooper] so it’s a penalty but the double punishment of a sending off as well is tough to take.
“The rules say a player is red carded if there’s no attempt to play the ball but you can’t accuse Jaimie of that because he wins it – he’s reached out and kicked it behind. He’s fouled the Glenavon player in doing so, I’m not questioning that, but I don’t see how the referee can say he wasn’t even attempting to play the ball when he clearly wins it.
“At that stage, we’re a man down, they score the penalty and then go 2-0 up soon later so our outlook on the whole game changes.”