Barry Gray admitted Cliftonville lacked sharpness in the first-half of Saturday’s victory over Ards – but was delighted with the response that delivered full points.
Trailing to an outrageous Michael McLellan blast from distance, the Reds came roaring out of the traps after the interval and saw a host of openings come and go before finally breaking the visitors’ resistance when Joe Gormley levelled with 11 minutes to play.
A deflected Conor McMenamin effort put Cliftonville ahead before Gormley sealed the deal in injury-time with a goal that drew him level with Kevin McGarry as the club’s all-time leading scorer on 170.
Gray hailed his team’s patience against a well-drilled Ards set-up.
“The good thing was we didn’t panic,” he said.
“The players kept faith in what they were doing and trusted in themselves that the goal would come. We weren’t terrible in the first-half but we weren’t as sharp as we could have been and that’s what we spoke about at half-time.
“We knew we could be so much better and I think the start to the second-half showed that when we could have scored twice in the opening minute. That set the tone and the players kept going.
“The longer you go without scoring, there can be a tendancy to deviate from your plan, start going long more often and resort to the sort of measures you don’t really want to be using, but the pleasing thing is that didn’t happen.”
Though toasting a team effort, Gray was quick to praise Gormley’s latest goalscoring contribution.
“That’s what Joe does, he just absolutely loves scoring goals,” he added.
“He loves playing for Cliftonville, he loves scoring for Cliftonville and to have equalled the club’s goal record is fantastic, he deserves all the credit.
“He’s Mr Cliftonville and has all the attributes to be a captain – except that he’s too nice!
“He’s so humble and so quick to give credit to others that I don’t think he has it in him to do the nasty things and say the unpleasant things that a captain sometimes has to say to his team-mates. Joe just doesn’t have that in him.”
Ards boss Colin Nixon was, meanwhile, left to reflect on what might have been after losing another three players – Mark Kelly, Kym Nelson and Ryan Strain – to injury and, though his team have scored just once in their last 462 minutes of Premiership action, he insists everyone at the club is united in their appreciation of the difficulties the team have faced.
“There’s no pressure being put on us or on me because that’s not the sort of football club we are,” he said.
“I’ve never known anything like it in terms of injuries and it seems to be forward player after forward player after forward player. We’re having bo luck at the minute but I can’t fault the players who are going onto the pitch for us, they’re giving it everything.
“Everybody at the club knows the trouble we’ve been happening and hopefully it turns for us because it’s very frustrating for everybody.”
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, McGovern, Ives, Breen, C Curran, R Curran (Garrett, 75 mins,), McDonald, Catney (R Donnelly, 64 mins), Gormley, J Donnelly (McConnell, 89 mins), McMenamin. Unused subs: Neeson, Lavery, Maguire, A Donnelly.
ARDS: Johnston, Kerr, Byers, Taylor, M Kelly (McLellan, 16 mins), McAllister, J Kelly, Mitchell, McClean, Nelson (Cherry, 68 mins), Strain (McArthur, 70 mins). Unused subs: Elebert, Mooney, McKenna, McAleenan.
REFEREE: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)