Belfast Telegraph

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Livid Gray implores Reds to up their game to compete with top flight elite

By Graham Luney

Managers don't like slamming their players in public but Cliftonville boss Barry Gray couldn't keep a lid on his anger at Seaview.

Referee Raymond Crangle was blasted but Gray was fuming with his side's performance in the 2-0 Boxing Day defeat at Crusaders and the hairdryer was turned up full power after the game.

Those words will be ringing in the Cliftonville players' ears when they take to the Solitude pitch against league leaders Coleraine this afternoon.

It promises to be another huge test for the north Belfast side who enjoyed plenty of possession at Seaview but lacked the creativity to open up a resolute Crues defence.

Ironically, they can now do their neighbours a huge favour by taking points off the Bannsiders while Crusaders have a tough assignment at Windsor Park.

Gray's interest in the title race has dwindled in recent days after defeats to the Blues and Crues, leaving him searching for character and courage in his dressing room.

It will be intriguing to see how the players respond to Gray's verbal volley today but the fans will expect a major improvement.

"We were on a good run against bottom six teams but we want to challenge for the league title and the performances against Linfield and Crusaders weren't good enough," said Gray who had high hopes his men would rise to the challenge over the key winter period.

"The players are delusional if they feel that is enough to challenge in any competition.

"In my mind, as manager, it is nowhere near the standards where we need to reach.

"People will feel I'm being harsh but I don't care.

"If they cannot lift their games for a north Belfast derby what can they lift their game for? Three or four might be prancing around thinking they have a name but to me there are no names in there.

"In my book you earn your name.

"Some are comfortable because they think Jimmy in stand thinks they're a good player.

"Their bubble will be burst very quickly because I won't stand for that.

"I'm not asking for a miracle. I'm asking for honesty and a performance the club and the people who work for it deserve.

"We had a decent run and it's a work in progress but we've got to be honest about where we are. I'll be honest with them.

"While we feel low at the minute we had the opportunity to do a little bit more and come away with a lot.

"Are we any further on? We want to challenge for the league but now we're chasing the top teams.

"I don't pick the players up, they pick themselves up.

"They have worked themselves into this situation.

"Myself and my staff will conduct ourselves in a professional manner the way we have done and there's got to be a reaction on Saturday."

Coleraine boss Oran Kearney is expecting a rough ride at Solitude.

"It's going to be very difficult - Cliftonville had a slow start to the season but you would expect that under a new manager," he said.

"They found their feet and they've plenty of firepower so we're under no illusion about how tough it's going to be on Saturday."

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