Belfast Telegraph

I've lost the fans: Cliftonville chiefs to discuss Barry Gray's future

Cliftonville manager Barry Gray during Saturday's Irish Cup defeat to Dungannon Swifts at Solitude.
Cliftonville manager Barry Gray during Saturday's Irish Cup defeat to Dungannon Swifts at Solitude.

By Conor McLaughlin

Cliftonville remained silent last night on the future of their manager Barry Gray amid growing calls for him to step down.

Club chiefs will meet to discuss Gray's future after their last chance at grasping silverware this season went up in smoke at Solitude on Saturday.

On the back of four Danske Bank Premiership defeats that had seen the Reds slump from the coat-tails of the title mix to a scrap for the European play-offs, Saturday's Irish Cup elimination at the hands of Dungannon Swifts has left Gray on thin ice.

Seanan Clucas registered the only goal of the game midway through the first half to book the visitors' progress to a sixth round date with Glenavon and, while Cliftonville could count themselves hugely unfortunate not to have at least forced extra-time, a fifth straight loss could ultimately spell the end for former Warrenpoint Town supremo Gray, who succeeded Gerard Lyttle in May 2017.

The Solitude hierarchy witnessed first-hand the angry reaction from the stands following the final whistle of Saturday's game.

Though the Reds have gone through a modest amount of managers in the 30 years since Billy Sinclair's tenure, not since the Scotsman's exit have the club's support made their disdain so evident.

Accompanying a chorus of boos, chants of "Out, out, out" echoed round the venue as Gray made his way from the dugout - a difficult experience that under-pressure predecessors Laurence Stitt, Marty Tabb, Eddie Patterson and Lyttle were never subjected to even after the tide had turned against them.

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"It hasn't been good enough and, at the end of the day, the responsibility lies with me," admitted Gray.

"We're sixth in the league, out of the Irish Cup and, in the first week of January, our season pretty much boils down to getting into the play-offs for Europe and that's nowhere near good enough for this club. It's not been good enough from me, the players or anyone involved but I know the buck stops with me.

"You can see the reaction of the fans at the end of the game, they're clearly not happy - and rightly so.

"It's a case that the fans, or the vast majority of them, don't want me."

Though inconsistency and individual errors have dogged Cliftonville from the start of the season, Gray would have every right to question how many ladders he'd walked under or how many black cats he'd crossed paths with during the last few weeks in particular.

When quizzed about the pivotal nature of a missed penalty against Institute on December 22, he admitted that "chaos" had reigned ever since.

Within a minute of that missed spot-kick - which would have seen Cliftonville turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead - the Reds conceded a penalty of their own and had their goalkeeper sent off en route to a 6-4 loss from which they have simply never recovered.

A five-goal humiliation by derby rivals Crusaders followed on Boxing Day ahead of Linfield clocking up a comfortable victory at Solitude last Saturday - while all four goals conceded in the New Year's Day hammering by Coleraine could have been prevented via the simple means of defenders kicking the ball properly. Even those basics deserted his confidence-shot side in the end.

If Gray were to go, an interim appointment would likely be made as soon as possible as the club would aim to assert some semblance of stability for their remaining Danske Bank Premiership commitments - with an assault on European qualification their key target.

One man safe in his job is Swifts chief Kris Lindsay, who was delighted with his team's work ethic as they followed up their victory over Glentoran with another impressive success.

"If we can translate that into the league more regularly, we can move up the table," he said.

"I can't fault the players for anything although I did think that, with a bit more care, we could maybe have caught Cliftonville on the break with another goal in the second half."

Belfast Telegraph


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