Barry Gray praised Cliftonville’s tenacity in overcoming a dogged Warrenpoint Town side in yesterday’s mammoth Tennent’s Irish Cup Fifth Round clash.
The Reds triumphed 4-3 after Extra Time in a tie that saw the momentum shift back and forth as the afternoon progressed, with a Ross Lavery strike and Jamie Harney’s hat-trick helping the hosts book a Sixth Round date with Crusaders next month.
Having started so poorly and found themselves under the cosh following Jaimie McGovern’s dismissal, Gray was pleased that Cliftonville dug deep in testing circumstances.
“We have had to work and battle and fight for everything and credit to the players for doing that,” he said.
“All the things I criticised them for the other week, they gave me here. I thought we showed real courage and, no doubt about it, Warrenpoint were on top going into Extra Time but [Matthew Tipton’s] red card has helped us immensely because it’s allowed us to go back into it at 10 against 10.
“Then Jamie pops up with another two goals. We had him in for shooting practise at training the other week and I lost count of how many balls we picked out of the top corner of the stand, so I don’t know what’s happened to him between then and now but I’m happy to take the credit for it.
“I don’t think Jamie gets half the credit he deserves for what he brings to the team, especially over the last couple of months.
“When he first came to the Club, he hadn’t played in 18 months and it was a big ask to put him in there and just expect him to pick things up. He was in for a while, then out again and now he’s been restored to the team and you can see what he brings us.”
Gray was also pleased with the contribution of new boy Conor McDonald, who emerged from the bench with 16 minutes of normal time remaining and played a key role in the Reds gaining the upper hand when the game was extended.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation to throw a player into on his debut,” explained Gray.
“We’re a man down, Warrenpoint are on top, we can’t keep the ball the way we wanted and someone’s being asked to go in and do a job in a team full of strangers to him, but I don’t think it showed. I’m not surprised with how well he played, I’ve worked with him in the past and I know what he does, it’s why I brought him here.
“We had Ruairi Harkin on the bench and I was hoping we could give him 10 or 15 minutes if and when we were comfortable in the game, maybe to protect a good lead and help us see things out but obviously we were never comfortable so it wasn’t a risk we wanted to take.
“It’s great to have Ruairi back and, though it’ll take a while for him to get back into things fitness-wise and sharpness-wise, as far as I’m concerned Ruairi Harkin is back and available for selection.”
On being handed a North Belfast Derby date in the next round, the Manager concluded: “I wasn’t hoping for Crusaders in the draw – nobody was – because they’re a very good team and we have to respect that but, from our point of view, we will step up and show what we can do.
“Our supporters were great at Seaview on Boxing Day, but they’re always better at Solitude and I’m sure they can’t wait for it.”