IRISH LEAGUE: Cliftonville boss Gray counting Christmas points not cards as Linfield trip starts packed period

Cliftonville manager Barry Gray
Cliftonville manager Barry Gray

Barry Gray is ignoring tradition and refusing to wait until January to go out with the old and in with the new.

The Cliftonville boss has three Christmas crackers on his calendar across eight days before the New Year - starting this weekend away to defending champions Linfield before tackling second-place Crusaders and league leaders Coleraine.

Maximum returns from November and December to date offer encouragement to Gray and his Reds sit third in the Danske Bank Premiership standings.

Gray is keen to embrace the packed programme as an opportunity to gain significant ground on rival clubs.

“We normally talk about treating one game at a time but that would be daft, given the chance to push on in such a short space of time,” said Gray. “But it is great and we are happy, having come out of a difficult start, to be sitting in a position where games against those clubs really count.

“It is so tight this season across the top end of the table and the intensive fixture list this time of year will only add to the excitement.

“It shows how delicate the situation stands that you could get a win and lose two, which would be worse than three draws as at least shared points mean no-one jumps on.

“We go into the run off a good period of form so with confidence thanks to those results but then so many other clubs all feel exactly the same.

“There is no doubt that the tight sequence of fixtures, especially against those clubs, has impacted on our preparations but everyone is relishing the challenge.”

Linfield’s bid for back-to-back title glory suffered a setback last weekend in a draw with struggling Warrenpoint Town which attracted an angry response from the Windsor Park home fans at the final whistle.

“When teams come to play us they want to make a name and, to be fair to Warrenpoint, they did that,” Linfield boss David Healy told the club’s official website. “We lacked a wee bit of courage.

“I spoke to the squad and those players out of the squad that we need to do better and do more.

“It hurts me personally not winning games of football but I can understand, the supporters have every right.

“Sometimes I put myself in their shoes and the performance was not of the quality it should have been.

“Voicing those opinions at the end is part of football.

“No-one hurts more than the supporters and the players going home and I beat myself up but I’m a strong character and we go again for a big game.

“We had done the hard yards against Glenavon and Coleraine so you think ‘right, are we going to go on a run again’.

“Cliftonville is a great game for us and one we should all look forward to, we were hugely embarrassed (against Warrenpoint) we let the Linfield supporters down and they had every right to voice that opinion at the end.

“We will regroup and there’s no club in the country that has regrouped like this club.”