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Steeling a march

Barry Gray saluted his players’ resolve following Cliftonville’s victory over Coleraine yesterday.

Two goals to the good courtesy of Levi Ives and Rory Donnelly, the Reds saw their advantage halved before the interval but defended resolutely after the break – and might even have extended their lead on more than one occasion.

Gray, who was forced into a late change when an injury to Jay Donnelly saw Thomas Maguire elevated to the starting line-up, was delighted with the team’s response following a difficult few days and believes their performance underlined their capabilities.

“It was a badly needed win and credit to the players because it would have been easy to have dropped the heads as we had to make changes before a ball was kicked but it’s a good step forward and it’s nice for the fans to see us close a game out in the last five minutes without any setbacks,” he explains.

“The defence did very well but our defending as a team overall was much better and we had the kind of steel about us that I always knew was in there. Our goalkeeper, Richard Brush, was only called into action a couple of times but was never really under any huge pressure because of how well the team in front of him did.

“When Coleraine pulled one back, the players didn’t panic, they didn’t crumble. The response was very good and we worked really hard right across the pitch.

“We showed good qualities to battle and grind the win out, which is one of the areas we’ve struggled with this season. We always knew we could do that and the players have answered questions that were asked of them, but we need to make sure it becomes a weekly thing.”

As well as toasting the “terrific technique” of Ives’ latest set-piece speciality and expressing his delight at seeing Rory Donnelly on the scoresheet again, Gray also paid tribute to Joe Gormley’s performance, despite the striker not finding the net.

“It’s not often Joe doesn’t score but I thought he was immense for us,” he adds.

“He was outstanding in so many positions. His energy and workload were fantastic. He was tireless and so unselfish.

“Perhaps these are attributes that he doesn’t get enough credit for because people tend to focus on his goalscoring prowess, but he worked so hard for the team from start to finish in what was a good all-round team performance.”