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Ard and soul

Barry Gray was more than content with Cliftonville’s night’s work in seeing off Ards at Solitude.

Jay Donnelly plundered a fine hat-trick and was joined by goalkeeper Brian Neeson in earning plaudits from the Manager, who once again praised his team’s work-rate after they made it four wins from five games in 14 days.

“We played a very patient game,” explains Gray.

“There was a patch where we took a bit of pressure and you could see examples of two or three players who were a bit leggy and needed the game to be over.

“It’s been a hectic period for us, so we’ve made a couple of changes, not so much to get fresh players on the pitch, but to get the not-so-fresh ones off. They came at good times and changed the compexion of things because it was in and around when we got the second goal.

“We’ve had so many games and so many training sessions lately but this week we’ve no midweek match and that will allow us to get back to a normal routine ahead of what is a very big game against Loughgall next Saturday. We’ll prepare for that well and give them the respect they deserve because they’re in the Irish Cup Semi Finals for a reason and they deserve to be there.”

On treble star Donnelly, the boss adds: “That takes him up to 22 goals and he’s played 90% of the time, maybe more, in midfield areas, so it’s an incredible tally to get that from your third striker from a midfield position.

“Credit to him because you have to do an extreme amount of work in that area and then we’ve moved him up front to give him a bit more freedom towards the end and he’s excelled at that.”

Neeson, meanwhile, made crucial saves at key times in the contest to thwart Guillaume Keke, Jonah Mitchell and Jonathan Frazer, with Gray concluding: “Bam has been like that over the course of these last four or five games, he’s pulled out several big saves and kept us in some very tight affairs.

“He’s made saves in critical parts of games to get us over the line but, as I keep saying, goalkeepers are there to make saves, just as players like Jay are there to score goals – but they both deserve praise for what they’ve done.”