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Manner of speaking

Barry Gray insists the manner of yesterday’s 3-0 victory over Dungannon Swifts was never going to matter, such was Cliftonville’s determination to get back to winning ways.

The Reds – who were recently frustrated to be held to a scoreless draw by Coleraine and thwarted by a weather-enforced abandonment against Ballymena United ahead of conceding an injury-time equaliser to Glenavon last time out – had not enjoyed a three-point return in the Danske Bank Premiership since December 16 but got back on track thanks to second-half strikes from Ross Lavery, Jay Donnelly and a Chris Hegarty own goal.

“Our first-half performance was just lacking in something,” says Gray.

“We were getting the ball forward and the chances were there but we just couldn’t put them away. The second-half started in the same way but we grew into it more and more and people might look at the 3-0 scoreline and think it was comfortable, but it was far from that for a long time.

“The detail of it doesn’t matter, though. Before the game, the only thing we spoke about was winning, no matter how, and making sure we came out of it with three points. Everybody – myself, the players and supporters – know that won’t be enough going forward but it was just important we won the game after the way the last few weeks have gone.

“Back in September and October, we put a good spell together that we carried through until Christmas and all runs like that have to start with a win somewhere, so the Dungannon game was all about getting back on the train and trying to find the first part of a new run. That’s one win, hopefully we can make it two at Ballinamallard on Friday night and try to keep building from there.”

The Manager also paid tribute to a string of fine individual displays as the Reds climbed to fourth in the table.

“We had a number of good performances from players but it didn’t really add up collectively for some reason,” he adds.

“After the game, I told the players to take a look around the dressing room and understand that a place in our starting XI is hard-earned. If you’re in the team, you have to work very hard to make sure you stay there. Ross Lavery is a great case in point – he’s forced his way in and is delivering with performances and goals.

“Brian Neeson made some very good saves at 0-0, but so did their keeper, and the impact Stephen Garrett made off the bench was huge – it’s great to have that in reserve for when you need it.

“Stevie works so hard and always puts a great shift in. Even when he starts games, he gives us so much but the problem is he’s so good coming off the bench – to his own detriment.

“The thing about Stevie is he won’t moan or complain about that because he’s a team player and always puts the collective above himself.

“People will say he deserves to be in the starting 11, and I would agree, but then he comes on as a sub, does so well to set up our first goal and then takes all the credit for forcing the own goal at the end. He’s such a good substitute that it would be a shame to lose that impact off the bench by having him start!

“It’s probably not very fair on him but he won’t mind that just now. He’s the sort of person who will see the 3-0 scoreline and the three points and be happy that he’s contributed.”