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Gray hails second nature

Barry Gray paid tribute to his players’ second-half performance as Cliftonville edged past Ballymena United at Solitude yesterday.

Stephen Garrett’s 70th minute strike after a Rory Donnelly drive had come back off the post proved enough to see off the Sky Blues, who suffered no such fortune when a first-half attempt from Conor McCloskey clattered the same upright only to fall favourably for home keeper Brian Neeson.

Gray acknowledged the two incidents in his post-match surmisal, where he also outlined his delight at Cliftonville’s reaction to his half-time intervention.

“We rode our luck massively in the first-half,” he says.

“Their shot comes off the post and then drops into our keeper’s hands. That’s the wee bit of luck that you need – you can’t plan for it or can’t make it happen but when it does happen you take it with two hands and say ‘thank God’.

“The first-half was way off the mark and we had a chat at half-time. In the second-half, there is nothing better than your players proving you wrong. Everything that I highlighted at half-time they done and everything I said was bad they changed and full credit. I would prefer that we didn’t have to go in at half-time and give them sort of talks, but we did it and got a reaction out of it.”

The victory saw Cliftonville complete a clean sweep of November successes without conceding a single goal but Gray has no concerns about recent form distracting his team from fresh challenges on the horizon.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near the players getting carried away with themselves,” he adds.

“They’re very focused and they get very little time to dwell on stats and runs and so forth. We know the December period we’re coming into now, how tough it is going to be and we know one or two games one way or another can make a huge difference to the overall season.

“That’s why this result was important more than anything else in terms of performance or anything like that. I have to give them credit whenever they deserve it, they’ve been top drawer and I’m not talking about in terms of what they’re delivering on pitch. It’s their energy, work-rate and willingness to listen to me – even when I’m not nice.

“This run of form will come and go just like everyone’s run of form comes and goes. We need to be prepared for the days ahead that will be tougher and the days wHere we won’t get that run of luck, but we’re moving in the right direction and we can only do so much at a time. Credit to the players and it’s on the next game.”