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Gray clouds

Barry Gray felt that the weather spoiled yesterday’s friendly tie with Swords Celtic.

Cliftonville won 2-0 courtesy of a Ryan Curran penalty and late Caoimhin McConnell strike in horrendous conditions at Solitude, where lashing rain, high winds, thunder and lightning made significant contributions to what should have been a final summer’s afternoon run-out ahead of next week’s Danske Bank Premiership curtain-raiser with Glentoran.

“The conditions pretty much wrecked the game that we’d planned for,” admits Gray.

“The priority was just to get through with no injuries – get a few minutes, score a few goals and keep a clean sheet. We’re pleased with that given the conditions. The players’ attitude was fairly sharp and the focus now changes to next week. Even in the lead up to the game, the eyes were set on next week anyway. We’re looking forward to training on Tuesday and Thursday as normal and then prepare for Saturday. It’s been a good pre-season campaign and the next week or so will tell the tale.”

Gray also felt the decision to dismiss Swords’ Gavin Smith for the handball offence that led to Curran’s penalty had a negative impact on the contest – but admits sympathy for referee Jamie Robinson, who was bound by the letter of the law to issue a red card.

“I know they still have to act by the rules and all the rest, but it was no benefit to us and we wanted to play against the eleven men for the challenge and for what it was,” he explains.

“It’s strange to see and you don’t like to see it at all during pre-season friendly games but it is what it is and who am I to chastise referees?”

Having enjoyed two outings in less than 48 hours, the boss is pleased that attentions can now fully turn to forthcoming Premiership commitments but, like most supporters in attendance at the wins over Ballinamallard United and Swords, was impressed by the performances of a number of young players in those friendly tests – including McConnell, who was on target in both.

“Obviously they’ve been restricted in pre-season so far because of the European build-up and all we’ve had to do with that,” he adds.

“The last couple of games they’ve had more minutes on the pitch and they’ve done really well – they’ve looked lively, looked sharp and been in teams with good, solid players around them that have allowed them to go and express themselves a wee bit and they’ve done that and they’ve scored some good goals and showed good link-up play.

“They’ve done that really, really well. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves or carried away but the early signs are positive for them.”