Barry Gray says Cliftonville will travel to Denmark with everything to play for in next week’s Europa League First Qualifying Round second leg tie with Nordsjælland.
In defiance of many pre-match predictions, the Reds more than held their own against the talented Superliga outfit, losing 1-0 but offering enough threat to provide a glimmer of hope ahead of the return meeting in Farum.
“You can’t ever be happy with a 1-0 defeat against anyone,” explains Gray, “but the second leg of this game is massively game on.”
“People expected the tie to be over as a contest at this stage. Full credit to the players because they were up against a very good team and I thought we performed very, very well.
“We’re disappointed with the goal we conceded because it came from a mistake from us and we got punished for it but I told the players after the game that they take an awful lot of credit from the night. They could have folded and the floodgates could have opened, but they reacted well to going behind and got better as the game went on.
“The margins were so narrow and it’s just a shame things went as they did.”
Though they were unable to draw themselves level on the night, Gray believes his players will relish next Thursday’s challenge at Right To Dream Park, which hosts Nordsjælland’s domestic opener with Ejsberg this weekend.
“It will be much more difficult over there,” he adds.
“They (Nordsjælland) will feel that they can open it up and finish us off back on their own patch and we know how hard it’s going to be for us. In that respect, we have nothing to lose but they have a lead to preserve so it’s different for them now.
“People thought we’d be four or five down at this stage, which would make next week a glorified holiday, but it’s a business trip now. We’re going there with the game alive and we’d be confident we can create chances for ourselves.
“We have a full week to prepare for the game, whereas they have a League match on Sunday which is their immediate focus. It’s up to us as a coaching staff, along with the players, to take what we’ve learned from the first leg and carry the detail of that into next week, but I can’t pay the team enough credit. They’ve had to do so much work over the last few weeks in terms of our shape and our gameplan, playing in a way that they’re not really used to, but they applied themselves so well and I thought we got stronger as the game went on.”
Visiting boss Kasper Hjulmand was understandably content to emerge from Belfast with an advantage ahead of next week’s return date in Denmark.
“The main thing was getting the victory,” he said.
“To come way with a win and a clean sheet is pleasing and we are in a good position going into next week but we don’t believe it’s over. It’s only one goal. We will respect Cliftonville and work hard to make sure we complete the job next week.
“We believe we can win back at our own stadium, where we have a bigger pitch and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”