Belfast Telegraph

Champions are on course for a title treble, says Warrenpoint boss Gray

By Graham Luney

Warrenpoint Town will arrive at Solitude tonight looking to knock Cliftonville's title march off course but their boss Barry Gray believes the champions already have their fingertips on the Gibson Cup for a third year running.

This Friday night showdown is the basement boys against the league's best but as every manager has informed us this season, the team at the bottom is capable of beating the side at the top.

Town are out to prove that theory and of course they have some golden memories of the north-Belfast venue after winning a penalty shoot-out there in the Irish Cup back in January, 2011.

It was a real David slaying Goliath moment and a similar heroic performance will be required to chalk up only their third league win this season.

Gray can take comfort from the fact that all the pressure is off his players and firmly on the shoulders of Tommy Breslin's men.

The champions have shown their class after some indifferent form earlier in the campaign and now sit in their familiar position at the top of the Premiership table.

They will be without the suspended Ryan Catney tonight but his absence won't necessarily lead to any dancing in the streets of the County Down village.

Breslin has an embarrassment of riches compared to Gray, who has even questioned his own future as Town's manager while performances have failed to live up to expectations.

But shocks do happen in football and all Gray expects from his players is that they go down fighting.

However, he knows they have a mountain to climb tonight. In fact, he's already tipping Cliftonville to make it three titles in a row come May.

"If someone wants to ask me who is going to win the league I would say it is very difficult to look beyond Cliftonville," said the Town boss.

"The players that won the league for them two years running have that experience to draw upon and they are so difficult to beat. People are saying it's a tight and competitive league and Cliftonville's rivals will hope to keep it that way but from what I have seen of the reigning champions, I think they are still the benchmark and the best team in the league."

There's no question that the Reds will be shown respect tonight but can they be beaten?

"Nobody will expect us to get anything from this game and that takes the pressure off our boys," added Gray.

"Hopefully that will let the shackles off and the players can show what they are capable of. We could sit back and let Cliftonville come on to us and carve us open but I would prefer us to play with more belief and purpose.

"They must be looking at this game as top v bottom and there's a chance of some complacency there.

"If they adopt that approach then we can take something from the game.

"We are looking forward to it and despite the difficult times we have experienced there's always an opportunity to do something positive and restore some pride. Cliftonville are a team that are difficult to penetrate but we will give it a go."

In recent weeks Gray has been scathing of his players' performances. When you are fighting at the bottom of the league, wins can be hard to come by but when the going gets tough the tough must get going.

The Town boss isn't prepared to accept the attitude that 'little Warrenpoint' are happy to be rubbing shoulders with the big boys. Players must be more ambitious than that.

"I just can't stand the attitude that we are a wee team and just happy to be in the Premiership," he added.

"I know we have come a long way but we had expectations at the beginning of the season and we are not meeting them.

"We have a committed bunch of players but when things waver and perhaps go a little wayward then our inexperience is evident. I believe in calling a spade a spade and the message to the players is simply that I'm the manager and I'll take the responsibility for performances but we need to rally and show some fight."

The picture is a lot brighter for Breslin, who has just scooped the BT Sport Manager of the Month award for October.

The Reds were unbeatable last month, winning all four Premiership games.

Breslin said: "We had a tough start to the season but I knew there was no reason to panic and thankfully things turned for us last month. We know there is a long, long way to go but we are happy to be sitting top of the table but that means we have to keep improving to make sure we stay there."

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