Belfast Telegraph

Gray concedes third place now out of Reds' grasp

Cliftonville 1-3 Glenavon

By Conor McLaughlin

Barry Gray admits that third place is out of Cliftonville's reach following Saturday's defeat to Glenavon.

An Andy McGrory penalty - awarded in the aftermath of home defender Jaimie McGovern's red card for a foul on Joel Cooper - and Andy Mitchell's double saw the Lurgan Blues pull six points ahead of their hosts with just two games left to play.

Third place could carry automatic European qualification if Coleraine win the Irish Cup, while it would have guaranteed Cliftonville a Europa League berth by virtue of their place in next month's decider.

Gray, who contested McGovern's dismissal, concedes it would be a tall order for his charges to claw back the deficit.

"It's still mathematically possible but, being realistic, I don't think anybody sees it happening now," he said

"We'd need to win both our games and hope that Glenavon and Linfield each lose twice and we'd have to turn the goal difference round too - not impossible, but not probable either.

"I've told the players that this result isn't what's cost us third place - it's too many results like this over the course of the season and that lack of consistency we keep talking about."

The deadlock was broken midway through the second-half when home goalkeeper Brian Neeson's misjudgement of a bouncing ball presented Cooper with an open net, but he was denied by a McGovern intervention that was deemed illegal by referee Evan Boyce, who awarded a penalty and sent the Cliftonville defender off.

McGrory duly netted from the spot and, within minutes, it was 2-0 when a similar error from Neeson allowed Mitchell to hammer home.

Joe Gormley pulled one back for the Reds but Mitchell's second of the day wrapped things up for Glenavon.

"I'm not sure McGovern should have been sent off," added Gray.

"It's a penalty, I accept that, I'm just not sure it's a straight red card. The fourth official has said that Jaimie has pulled him (Cooper) down and that's why he was sent off. The rules say that if there's no attempt to play the ball then you're off... but there clearly was an attempt to play the ball because he won it!

"He may have fouled their player but you can't say he made no attempt to play the ball when you can clearly see he's kicked it behind."

Opposite number Gary Hamilton was understandably thrilled to see the Lurgan Blues clock up their first Premiership win since a 2-0 defeat of Linfield at Windsor Park on February 27.

"For all the injuries, suspensions and refereeing mistakes we've had go against us this season, it would be excellent if we finished third," he said.

"In fact, we'd probably be guaranteed third if it wasn't for those mistakes - and that's not just me moaning, TV footage has proven it so many times."

CLIFTONVILLE: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Harney, Curran, Harkin, Gormley, J Donnelly, Grimes, McDonald, R Donnelly. Subs: Dunne, Garrett (McDonald, 78 mins), Winchester (Harkin, 84 mins), Lavery, Cosgrove.

GLENAVON: Tuffey, Burns, Kelly, Doyle, Norton, Marshall, Mitchell, Griffin, Sykes, McGrory, Cooper. Subs: Foley, Marron (Kelly, 90 mins), O'Mahony, Daniels (McGrory, 82 mins), Murray (Griffin, 50 mins).

Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan)

Man of the match: Andy Mitchell

Match rating: 7/10

Belfast Telegraph

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