Cliftonville can't afford to think the season is over, warns Gray
Cliftonville 4-1 Ards
Barry Gray has asked his players not to be caught up in the doom and gloom of a horrific holiday hangover.
Cliftonville suffered five defeats on the spin over the holiday period, snuffing out their title hopes as well as heralding an early exit from the Irish Cup but, after stopping the rot with Saturday's victory over Ards, Gray pointed out that it actually remains possible for the Reds to improve upon last season.
"Last year, we finished fifth and reached the Irish Cup Final but that doesn't count for anything unless you win it, which I actually said at the time," he reflected.
"So we finished fifth and qualified for Europe through the play-offs. Was that our target or where we wanted to be? No, absolutely not and nor are we happy with how this season has gone, but I've said to the players that we can still match that, or even improve upon it.
"We're sixth at the minute and it's actually still mathematically possible for us to qualify for Europe. Admittedly, that's not very likely given the points difference we would have to make up, but it's just an example of why we can't afford to accept or believe that our season's over.
"Yes, we can get caught up in our league challenge being finished and being out of the Irish Cup, but what's the benefit? There are still matches to play and points to be won so, between now and the end of the season, the challenge is to win as many of them as possible."
Gray's charges got back to winning ways at the weekend when basement battlers Ards had their resistance broken during a dominant second-half display from the hosts. Pegged back just before the interval by a Darren Henderson penalty, the Reds - who had edged in front courtesy of Ryan Curran - saw Joe Gormley denied from the spot by Sam Johnston before Conor McMenamin's firm finish restored Cliftonville's lead.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
Rory Donnelly made it 3-1 before teeing Gormley up to complete the scoring with a cool lob.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, Harney, C Curran, Harkin, R Curran, R Donnelly, Bagnall, Gormley, Lavery, McMenamin, Gorman. Subs: McKenna, McGovern, Breen, Garrett (McMenamin, 79 mins), Catney (Bagnall, 75 mins), McConnell (Harkin, 83 mins), Maguire.
ARDS: Johnston, E McAllister, Byers, Cherry, Tommons, McClean, Nelson, McAleenan, Evans, Smith, Henderson. Subs: Davidson, Kerr, Kelly (Henderson, 75 mins), McLellan, D McAllister (E McAllister, 71 mins), Bennett (Cherry, 71 mins), McCawl.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)
Man of match: Conor McMenamin
Match rating: 7/10.