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Better by half

Barry Gray admits Cliftonville “had to address a few issues” at half-time of last night’s Tennent’s Irish Cup Quarter Final victory over Linfield.

Joe Gormley struck the only goal of the game with 11 minutes left on the clock at Windsor Park but the Reds were grateful to goalkeeper Brian Neeson for a string of first-half saves that ensured parity at the interval.

“Linfield should probably have been out of sight,” says Gray.

“We were delighted to get in at half-time with the score still level. We needed the interval because we had to address a few issues because we were having problems.”

Cliftonville were much improved in the second-half and were rewarded when substitute Ruairi Harkin – who had only been on the field a matter of minutes – delivered an exquisite through-ball from which Gormley produced a cool finish.

“That’s what big players do in big games,” adds Gray.

“It’s great to have a player like Ruairi Harkin coming off the bench in such a big game. Joe has put it away well but, for me, it was a wonder-ball and an absolute dream for any striker.”

The Reds will face giantkilling Loughgall in the Semi Finals of the competition at The Oval later this month and Gray is warning against any under-estimation of the Bluefin Sport Championship side, who have eliminated Danske Bank Premiership representatives Ards and Glenavon in the previous two rounds.

“They have already stung the big boys and we have to make sure they don’t do it to us,” he asserts.

“You could see at the end that beating Linfield meant a lot to the players and the supporters, but we have to get focussed and ready to go again.

“There’s a lot of talk about the Irish Cup and Cliftonville. People talk about 1979 all the time, but my job isn’t about fairy stories. My job is to try and deliver.

“It’s now about going on to try and win it. It’s not going to be easy, but there are only four teams left and we’re one of them.”