Belfast Telegraph

Town boss plots an upset for Linfield's big homecoming

By Stuart McKinley

By day Warrenpoint Town manager Barry Gray works as an architect. He put together the plans for the club's ground improvements last year which now allows them to play Premiership football in the County Down town.

Had he been asked he could probably have done the same for Windsor Park, which is currently undergoing a £25m upgrade.

Instead Gray has other plans, namely plotting to be the architect of Linfield's downfall as they make their return home this afternoon after playing their first seven matches of the season on the road.

It's a scenario that Gray is familiar with. Last season, following their promotion, Warrenpoint had to do the same, playing their 'home' matches 40 miles away in Dungannon while Milltown was made fit for top flight matches.

Their own homecoming party was blighted by a floodlight failure, which caused the match against Glenavon to be abandoned.

The light is extremely unlikely to have an impact on today's game, so Gray and his team will have to do it themselves – and he would love to spoil the occasion.

"There are two ways you can look at it," said Gray.

"You can moan about being the team that is playing Linfield in their first match back at Windsor Park and their first home match under the new manager, with all that it brings – and you would expect that they'll be very much up for it.

"Or you can go and be a tough opponent and try to impose yourself on the game – and how many times have you seen occasions like this turn out to be a damp squib?

"Last year we went back to Milltown and there was a big buzz and a lot of excitement and I expect it will be the same for Linfield.

"I look at their form and while the way things stand they can go top if they win their game in hand, it hasn't been great so far.

"They are going through a transitional period with a new manager, a lot of players going in and out and it tells a tale.

'We have to hope that they get caught up in all that and we would love to be the team that bursts their bubble on their homecoming."

After comfortably escaping automatic relegation last season and being saved the trouble of a play-off when Belfast Telegraph Championship 1 runners-up Bangor were unable to come up, Warrenpoint have struggled so far this season and are sitting bottom of the Premiership with seven games gone.

It took them five games to get a win, which ironically came at Dungannon, where they enjoyed a bit of success as both the home team and the visitors last season.

Few would have given them a chance of following that up with another victory, but they were oh so close to beating champions Cliftonville last weekend after Stephen Hughes' late goal, before Joe Gormley netted the rebound from his own missed penalty in injury time.

Now it's out of the frying pan and into the fire as Warrenpoint follow today's trip to Windsor with games against two other teams who have designs on the title, in the shape of Belfast side Crusaders and Portadown.

"I don't think we've turned the corner yet. If we can stay on this run over the next few games then maybe we can say we have," said Gray.

"Last season I found it easier to play against the better teams who were higher up the table and we had some good performances and good results against them.

"I think when the pressure is off a bit it allows our players to have freedom and they have the ability if they can just have the belief.

"We haven't been at full strength lately, we have lost Daniel Hughes the last couple of weeks, but Stephen Hughes, we have pushed and pulled him a bit and he has done pretty well.

"If we can get settled partnerships throughout the team I'll be a bit happier."

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