Barry Gray saluted Cliftonville’s bravery and hailed the contribution from the stands as a barren run without a North Belfast Derby victory was ended in stylish fashion yesterday.
Joe Gormley’s hat-trick and a close-range finish from Stephen Garrett helped the Reds to an emphatic 4-1 victory over Crusaders that set up a Tennent’s Irish Cup Quarter Final showdown with Linfield at Windsor Park next month.
Gray was delighted not only with his side’s performance, but also the focus they maintained to ensure the visitors never threatened a route back into the contest.
“Nobody can question the attitude of my players after that,” he said.
“There’s been a lot said about us for a variety of reasons but when you see a team playing like that, it tells you what you need to know and what they’re capable of.
“At 2-0 up, you’re asking them to make sure they keep doing what they’re doing and don’t let Crusaders back into it in the second-half. Anybody knows that 2-0 can be the most false scoreline in football because, if the losing team gets one back, more times than enough it can lead to the momentum shifting entirely.
“The players stuck to the gameplan and did everything we asked of them – and even more on top of that. There were things that supporters and the media won’t have spotted, but it didn’t go unnoticed by me, so I have to give the players all the credit for how they’ve performed and everything they’ve done in the game. We asked for bravery and we asked them to have the courage to go out and play football. They did that and they got their reward for it.”
On the row surrounding the twice-taken penalty that saw Gormley afforded a second opportunity to open the scoring due to the dismissed Declan Caddell having not yet left the pitch, Gray – who had his players back in for training this morning – added: “Regardless of what anyone says about the penalty incident, the fact of the matter is that it was a penalty and the rules are the rules. They’ve had a player sent off and he was still on the field when it was taken, so I don’t see how there can be any argument about it being taken again.
“I agree we’ve had a bit of luck that it was spotted, but we’re due a bit of luck and it’s nice that it came for us the way that it did. I wouldn’t want any of that talk to take away from our performance because nobody can say that Cliftonville weren’t the better team.”
The boss also reserved words of praise for the Red Army and offered his thoughts on that last-eight joust with the Blues.
“I’ve spoken before about the difference our supporters can make,” he added.
“They had a big impact at critical times in the game and it just goes to show what I’ve said all along – fans will turn up to a game fully intending to get behind their team, but when the team really give them something to throw their weight behind, they turn it up again. The players and supporters feed off eachother, when the fans see players giving their all, that makes the fans give even more, which feeds into the players again.
“You have to give supporters something to grab hold of and believe in. The players did that, which is why they deserved not just to win the game but also the reception from the stands at the end.
“We now have another big Irish Cup game against Linfield to come. It’s a month away so there’s plenty that can happen in between.
“Just as I said when we were drawn against Crusaders, if you want to win the Irish Cup, you have to beat the best teams in the big games, so we’ve got to try and do that again.”