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Crush and burn

Barry Gray says Cliftonville achieved their objective of a convincing win and clean sheet in last night’s County Antrim Shield defeat of Lisburn Distillery – and was particularly pleased with the contribution made by a number of individual players.

Ryan Catney set the Reds on their way and Jay Donnelly doubled the advantage before Joe Gormley netted a second-half double and then teed Ryan Curran up to complete the scoring and book a Quarter Final date with Crusaders at Seaview.

“We were professional and did what we needed to do, I don’t think we can read too much into it,” says Gray.

“I was a wee bit disappointed when it looked like we were just going to accept 2-0, but we pushed on for more and that was a positive. We created plenty of chances, scored plenty of goals and kept a clean sheet – I think that’s as much as could have been expected.”

The shut-out was particularly pleasing for the Manager, who was happy with Brian Neeson’s performance against a Whites side that threatened through Nick Beta and Alan McMurtry.

“Games like that are always very difficult for goalkeepers, because their concentration levels needs to be very high and they’re maybe only called into action two or three times across the 90 minutes and it can be easy to switch off,” he adds.

“Bam did really well. He hasn’t played a lot of games for us recently and it’s important for him that he keeps the clean sheet and stays positive and keeps chirping on about getting minutes under his belt. I was really pleased and delighted for him that he’s kept the clean sheet, if you’re a goalkeeper or defender you don’t want to see that goal conceded and it’s good for them as a unit to keep a clean sheet.”

Opening scorer Catney was also singled out for praise, with Gray reflecting: “The goal was a nice reward for him because, in recent weeks when performances and results haven’t been where we would want them, he has been one of the constant players that has stood up and is happy to be counted and continues to do that.

“He’s not renowned for his goals it but if you can get him in the right positions he can certainly have a go at it and he’s not afraid to. I think he might be one of those players in the dressing room that takes more abuse for scoring a goal than not – and he will certainly make sure that, for the next wee period, nobody will forget that he scored it!”

Donnelly was likewise a key performer, his strike from 25 yards giving visiting keeper Jonah Mitchell no chance as Cliftonville took firm control of proceedings during the first-half.

“From the day and hour I took over at Cliftonville, I made Jay very aware of how much that I thought of him as a player – having not worked with him,” explains Gray.

“In footballing terms, it’s hard to hide class and he has it. He still has work to do, don’t get me wrong, but when it turns for him and things are good, he is certainly very easy to watch.”

The only downside from a Reds point of view was the injury suffered by debutant Damien McNulty, who was taken to hospital with concussion following a clash of heads with central defensive partner Jamie Harney – and Gray feels the incident is indicative of the 27-year-old’s luck.

“He had a niggly injury that kept him out of proceedings until last week,” adds the boss.

“He featured for the Under 20s on Friday night and the idea was to get him another full 90 minutes under his belt and then he would have been pushing.

“Concussion will probably knock him back a few weeks before he will be able to play again – we’ll just have to see how that goes. It’ss unfortunate for him but as long as he is fit and healthy coming out of it, that’s the main thing.

“I’m disappointed for him – he had a real niggly injury in the Achilles, it was one of those injuries that he couldn’t train or do anything at all and he’s come clear of that and pushed through the last stages a wee bit quicker than we expected.

“It’s the way things seem to be at the minute – we seem to recover one and lose one, but hopefully we can get somewhere with that in the next wee while. We’ll welcome Rory Donnelly back soon and Ruairi Harkin is back on the training pitch for the first time in his pitch rehab.

“We won’t be rushing Ruairi, it’s a stringent rehab plan that he’s on. He’s making really good progress and has done in his gym stuff to get him to where he is at the minute. He is feeling very, very good but it is a standard time frame for a rehab on that type of injury.”