Barry Gray was pleased with the patience Cliftonville showed in yesterday’s late turnaround against Ards and praised his team for keeping the faith and not resorting to panic measures as the clock ticked down.
With Michael McLellan’s long-range blast giving the visitors something to hold on to, the Reds were frustrated by a well-drilled and disciplined defensive performance from Ards, whose resistance was finally broken when Joe Gormley capped a delightful passing sequence with the equaliser 11 minutes from time.
A deflected Conor McMenamin effort put Cliftonville in front ahead of Gormley extending the hosts’ advantage – and Gray believes the tone for the comeback was set in the opening 45 seconds of the second-half, when Jay Donnelly twice went close to scoring.
“We weren’t terrible in the first-half but we weren’t as sharp as we could have been and that’s what we spoke about at half-time,” he explains.
“We knew we could be so much better and I think the start to the second-half showed that when we could have scored twice in the opening minute. The good thing was we didn’t panic. The players kept faith in what they were doing and trusted in themselves that the goal would come.
“The longer you go without scoring, there can be a tendency to deviate from your plan, start going long more often and resort to the sort of measures you don’t really want to be using, but the pleasing thing is that didn’t happen.”
While thrilled with the impact that all three substitutes – Rory Donnelly, Stephen Garrett and Caoimhin McConnell – made, the Manager admits it was tough to decide who to withdraw from a dominant second-half performance.
“You’re looking at it on the sideline and thinking ‘I want to freshen this up to see if that makes a difference’ and we’ve got some really good options on the bench but, at the same time, there wasn’t really anybody I wanted to take off! All the forward players were having a real go at it, they were all creating openings, they were all trying to get their shots away but Ards are really good at shutting you out, the amount of clean sheets they’ve kept in the last few weeks is proof of that. Thankfully every player, whether they’d started or came on as sub, kept the momentum going and we got our rewards in the end.”
Gray also hailed the latest contribution from Gormley, whose injury-time sealer saw him draw level with Kevin McGarry as the Club’s all-time leading scorer on 170 goals.
“That’s what Joe does, he just absolutely loves scoring goals,” he adds.
“He loves playing for Cliftonville, he loves scoring for Cliftonville and to have equalled the club’s goal record is fantastic, he deserves all the credit.
“I call him Mr Cliftonville. I don’t think he really likes it but that’s what he epitomises to me. He’s so humble, so nice, always willing to work hard and do his bit for the team. He’s scored all those goals but he’ll be the first to give his team-mates credit for supplying him with the chances, that’s the sort of person he is.
“He always gives me something to think about because, in matches like this where you’re looking to bring a sub on to try and freshen things up, you’re looking at Joe and thinking if anything at all opens up, a wee half-chance or something, he’s the man who’s going to take it.
“There’s no ego or arrogance about him, he’s just a local boy who loves playing for Cliftonville and we love having him here.”