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Cliftonville players have proved me and their critics wrong, says boss Barry Gray

Cliftonville 1-0 Ballymena United

By Conor McLaughlin

Barry Gray admitted Cliftonville rode their luck in narrowly seeing off Ballymena United at Solitude.

The visitors were twice thwarted by the woodwork during a first half they controlled and were undone by the frame of the goal in the second period, when the post teed Stephen Garrett up for the only goal of the game.

United winger Conor McCloskey had struck the same upright earlier in the contest but, rather than falling favourably for Johnny McMurray to stroke home, the ball rolled straight back into the grasp of grateful Reds keeper Brian Neeson.

"That's the wee bit of luck that you need," said Gray. "You can't plan for it or can't make it happen but when it does happen you take it with two hands and say 'thank God'.

"The first half was way off the mark and we had a chat at half-time. In the second half, there is nothing better than your players proving you wrong.

"Everything that I highlighted at half-time they did and everything I said was bad they changed and full credit. I would prefer that we didn't have to go in at half-time and give those sort of talks, but we did it and got a reaction out of it."

The result saw Cliftonville complete a 100% win record in November without conceding a single goal and Gray paid tribute to players who had come under some stinging criticism during a less than impressive start to the season.

"It's perfect because we've been hammered at the start of the year about how we couldn't do this and couldn't do that," he added.

"I bring it back to the players' attitude, it's not easy to switch all that negativity off and deal with it and do what you're supposed to do.

"It speaks for itself, you don't need to give any credit - when the defenders walk off the field with a nil scoreline, job done. There's nothing more pleasing in my book and it's fantastic to see goals not just coming from our strikers, that's so important."

Opposite number David Jeffrey - whose charges also clattered the crossbar courtesy of a wonderful long-ranger from Johnny McMurray- reflected: "There might have been a time when Ballymena would come to Solitude, play like that, lose 1-0 and go 'yeah well, we've put on a good performance' and be content with that, but they're gutted in there, absolutely gutted.

"It's very tough to take but, with all the injuries we've got, I'm proud of how we've played."

CLIFTONVILLE: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Breen, Harney, Curran, Garrett, Winchester (Bagnall, 67 mins), Gormley, J Donnelly, R Donnelly. Unused subs: Dunne, Hughes, M Donnelly. Lavery.

BALLYMENA: Glendinning, T Kane, Friars, Thompson (McKinney, 82 mins), Friel, McCloskey (Faulkner, 79 mins), Balmer, Ervin, McCullough, McCaffrey (Shevlin, 79 mins), McMurray. Unused subs: Owens, Gault.

Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)

Man of the match: Chris Curran

Match rating: 7/10

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