Gray slips away as Reds fall at Swifts
Dungannon Sw 3 Cliftonville 1
Barry Gray slipped quietly out of Stangmore Park - and the Cliftonville hot seat - as another dismal defeat ended his tenure.
All the post-match talk centred on Gray's departure as manager, but he wasn't speaking.
He had left the ground, without conducting the usual post-match media duties, around 15 minutes after the final whistle.
A 3-1 win for Dungannon Swifts - via a hat-trick from ex-Reds player Daniel Hughes - prompted the sudden parting of the ways.
Gray, who took charge in May 2017, had been under growing pressure.
Only two weeks earlier, after an Irish Cup defeat by the Swifts, he had pondered his future in a brutally honest interview.
The "vast majority" of fans, he said, didn't want him to remain in charge.
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He noted the unrest on the terraces, adding that "serious questions" needed to be asked about his position.
Gray survived that defeat, and a 4-1 win over Ards in the next game eased the pressure a little.
But another dire performance - the 3-1 final score on Saturday flattered Cliftonville - marked the end of the line.
After Jamie Harney's header had cancelled out Hughes' opener, the Dungannon striker bagged himself a double to condemn the Reds to their sixth loss in seven outings.
As the final whistle blew, there seemed little hint of anything amiss, apart from a few jeers from the travelling support - hardly uncommon in recent weeks.
Gray walked over to shake hands with the officials before heading to the changing rooms.
He emerged around 10 minutes later, looking relaxed as he chatted briefly with club staff and his assistant, Harry Fay.
Gray then quickly headed for the exit, without doing his usual media interviews.
Within a minute, a short statement had been released on the Cliftonville website confirming his departure.
He leaves with Cliftonville sixth in the table, but out of both cups and little left to play for.
He arrived 20 months ago after Gerard Lyttle resigned to take charge at Sligo, securing the post largely on the back of his impressive achievements at Warrenpoint Town.
But this season has been dogged by problems on and off the pitch.
The Jay Donnelly case, which has been well documented outside the sports pages, has been an unhelpful distraction.
On the pitch, results have been poor. Some pinpointed the game against Institute shortly before Christmas as a turning point.
Trailing 3-1 at half-time, they came back to make it 3-3, then missed a penalty which would have made it 4-3. Institute raced up the other end, retook the lead, and eventually ran out 6-4 winners.
A low point came with the Irish Cup exit against Dungannon, when Gray was confronted with angry calls of "out, out, out" from some supporters.
Two weeks later, after another defeat by the Swifts, those fans got their wish.
DUNGANNON: Moore, Lowe (Ferrin, 54 mins), Armstrong, Hegarty, O'Rourke, Teggart (Campbell, 46 mins), Hutchinson, Smyth, Patton, McElroy, Hughes (Lafferty, 81 mins). Unused subs: Moran, Dykes, Gallagher.
CLIFTONVILLE: Brush, C Curran, Gorman, Harney, McMenamin, R Curran, Harkin (McGovern, 72 mins), Bagnall, Lavery (Catney, 72 mins), Garrett (Maguire, 72 mins), Gormley. Unused subs: Neeson, Breen, McConnell, A Donnelly
Referee: Shane Andrews (Comber)
Man of the match: Daniel Hughes
Match rating: 8/10