Barry Gray believes his patched-up Cliftonville side competed well in yesterday’s Danske Bank Premiership clash with Coleraine – but was naturally disappointed to be punished by a strike just as the contest entered injury-time.
Both sides carved out a host of opportunities during an entertaining affair that saw all of the goalscoring reserved for the final 18 minutes; Aaron Burns netting twice for the Bannsiders either side of Joe Gormley’s deflected free-kick levelling things up.
The Reds were once again hit hard by injuries and suspensions, with the late knock suffered by Ryan Curran arguably hampering their momentum in the immediate aftermath of equalising.
“Game management is so important and, all things considered, I thought we had done quite well,” reflects Gray.
“We just needed to keep it up for four more minutes but we’ve been punished and it’s hard to take. I know Coleraine had a lot of chances but so did we and the frustrating thing is we’ve been caught with four players still in their box when they’ve launched that attack. I said to the players afterwards that we wouldn’t have done that in our European games, so we shouldn’t be doing it here.
“I’m not saying we’ve lost the game because of the players we had missing but when you consider who we didn’t have and the changes we’ve had to make, I don’t think a draw with a team as good as Coleraine would have been a bad result. Three central defenders out meant we’ve had to go with someone who’s not played in the middle in maybe three-quarters-of-a-season, which left a gap at right-back that we’ve played a central midfielder in. Then, in midfield, you’ve a partnership that I don’t think has ever played together before last week, two new signings on the wings and then another unfamiliar partnership up front. Despite all of that, we have done well for the most part – but we’ve just switched off at the end and it’s cost us.”
Gray also felt a more streetwise approach in the closing exchanges would have yielded a draw and compared Coleraine’s winner to a similar move that had been cynically halted at the other end of the pitch moments earlier.
“Thomas Maguire is breaking forward and their defender, Aaron Traynor, takes him out and takes a yellow card for it,” he explains. “They go forward and (Jamie) McGonigle gets time on the ball to try and pick his pass – a foul there and the danger’s over. They would have had a free-kick from near enough the corner flag but they had about 15,000 corners in the second-half and we dealt with them all, so I’d have been confident we’d have dealt with another delivery like that. As it turns out, the ball’s played into the middle and there’s a space that’s exploited.
“All day long, we’ve defended pretty high up the pitch and Coleraine have struggled to play off the shoulder but we’ve dropped deeper and deeper and suddenly the gap between our attack and our defence is huge. You end up with four of our players in their box while they’re on the attack – a central defender is dragged out wide, there’s no foul where maybe there should be one, the ball gets played in and the space where your central defender would have been is exploited and we’re unable to make up the ground because of the gaps we’ve created by dropping deeper.
“It’s a difficult one to take but something I hope we’ll learn from. We had done so well for 90 minutes and it was all about managing things for those last four minutes but, unfortunately, we’ve just momentarily switched off and it’s cost us.”