Barry Gray believes the grit and determination that Cliftonville showed to grind out a dramatic last-minute victory over Glentoran yesterday is evidence that his team are turning the corner on a frustrating start to the season.
The Reds had looked set for a share of the spoils after passing up a host of second-half chances at Solitude before Joe Gormley struck just as the board was going up for injury-time – a development that the Manager insisted was no less than the hosts deserved despite the performance being patchy in stages.
“We had four or five really good chances in the six-yard box inside about 20 minutes and it just looked like being one of those days,” says Gray.
“Nothing was really working for any of our front players, Joe, Jay (Donnelly) and Rory (Donnelly). Things weren’t falling for them but we had a real determination to keep trying to win the game. We could have seen those chances missed and said to ourselves that maybe we’ll just take a 0-0 and say we were unlucky – but that mentality wasn’t there. We wanted to win it, there was a real grit about the way we kept at it.
“Overall, our performance wasn’t great, a few boys had off days but a big motivator for them is that, for the first time this season, we have more and more competition for places and there’s someone else there waiting to take your shirt. That kind of thing makes a difference.”
On that very subject, Gray expects to see a number of Cliftonville’s injured stars back in the mix before too long and is hopeful that their return can help build up a head of steam generated by the momentum of recent weeks.
“We won the game and we’re pleased to have won it but we’ve got three or four players walking out of that dressing room gutted because they know they didn’t play as well as they could have,” he adds.
“I’m not going to critique the performance, though, because the win and building on last week was what really mattered.
“We’ve been in this position before. Are we turning the corner, are we on the curve, are we round the corner or are we walking backwards? We’ve walked backwards plenty of times but this week gives us an indication that, while we’re not quite round that corner, we’ve won a game that’s going to help us get there.
“This was the strongest matchday panel we’ve been able to name this season. We’ve boys sitting in the stand who can’t get a game that were in the team two weeks ago – and that competition’s only going to increase when we add the likes of Liam Bagnall and Ruairi Harkin back into the mix. That’s going to be a great problem for me to have as a Manager but it’s also good for individual players because it can drive them on to get the best out of themselves.”