Barry Gray says Loughgall’s giantkilling exploits in the Tennent’s Irish Cup leave Cliftonville with no choice but to afford them respect ahead of tomorrow’s Semi Final showdown at The Oval.
The Bluefin Sport Championship side accounted for Ards in the Sixth Round ahead of ousting Glenavon in the last-eight and, as they bid to ensure they don’t become the Villagers’ third Danske Bank Premiership scalp in this season’s competition, Gray insists the Reds must be fully focused and professional in every aspect of their approach.
“Loughgall might be the underdogs, but they’re underdogs who have already shown they’re capable of a shock and a big shock at that – the warning signs are there,” explains the boss.
“If a Championship side puts out a Premiership team, people might think ‘Okay, upsets happen, it was just one of those days’ – but they’ve done it twice, so there’s no fluke involved there. They went to Mourneview Park and beat Glenavon, so they’re clearly a team capable of upsetting the odds.
“People talk about it being a big occasion for Loughgall, but this is a huge match for Cliftonville too. You can’t play down an Irish Cup Semi Final and I wouldn’t have any intention of doing so. No matter who you’re playing at this stage of the competition, you have to go out and perform to prove you deserve to be in that Final.”
Gray has been pleased with Cliftonville’s form in recent weeks and just as enamoured by the fact that he and his coaching staff have had a full week on the training ground to prepare for this eagerly-anticipated battle.
“People always talk about taking things one game at a time and, to be honest, none of us had been paying too much attention to the Loughgall match because we didn’t have a chance to. Our schedule has been hectic over the last month, but we’ve had what I call a normal week where we’ve had no midweek game and we’ve just been able to prepare and fully focus on playing Loughgall.
“We’re giving them the respect they deserve because they’ve earned it. We’ve had them watched and we’ve done our homework on them, but it will really all come down to how we go out and play when the whistle blows.
“Recently, we’ve been doing very well and we’d obviously be looking to continue that. There’s a confidence in the changing room and that’s been backed up by results and performances over the last few weeks. We need to go out and hit those levels again because there’s no question at all that Loughgall will make us fight for every ball.”
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