Belfast Telegraph

Premiership push is still Cliftonville's best chance to realise European dream: Gray

Here and now: Barry Gray is not thinking about the cup date with Linfield
Here and now: Barry Gray is not thinking about the cup date with Linfield

By Graham Luney

Cliftonville manager Barry Gray has urged his team and the fans to forget about the upcoming Irish Cup quarter-final at Linfield and focus on surging up the league table - starting on Saturday, ironically at home to the Blues.

Having suffered weekend disappointment, losing to Ballymena United in the League Cup semi-final, Gray was pleased to see his side return to winning ways on Tuesday night with a richly deserved 3-1 victory at Warrenpoint Town in the Danske Bank Premiership.

Jay Donnelly, Conor McDonald and Joe Gormley all found the net as the Reds moved level on points with fourth placed Linfield.

With that League Cup exit, many Cliftonville supporters are putting great stock in the Irish Cup and a mouthwatering clash at Windsor Park next month.

For Gray, however, the excitement of that encounter can wait.

"No one in our dressing room will be thinking about the Irish Cup tie with Linfield," said Gray.

"Our only focus will be on the game against them on Saturday. Make no bones about it, our best route to European football next season is through the league. Whatever happens in the Irish Cup is a bonus.

"The forthcoming league games in the run up to the split may not seem as big as an Irish Cup quarter-final to the fans but they are hugely important to me and the players. This is our bread and butter.

"We have a target to qualify for Europe at the end of the season and we have to bring it to reality. We still feel we can achieve that through the league, otherwise we will find ourselves in very difficult circumstances at the start of next season."

On hosting David Healy's men, Gray added: "People get carried away looking at Linfield because of their league position at the moment and the thought that they aren't having a good season, but they are a still a good side with quality players.

"It's a massive game for us because there is the potential for us to put distance between the sides for the first time and to go above them with the same number of games played.

"That's our target to go ahead of Linfield and then see if we can get close to Glenavon in third."

Gray believes that the form of Jay Donnelly has given him a welcome selection headache with brother Rory eligible to feature against Linfield after serving a suspension.

"Jay Donnelly has been good for me since I arrived at the club. He gives us a goal threat and has great energy," added the Reds boss.

"We have used him in several different areas and he had a chance to play up top against Warrenpoint with Rory being suspended and he did well.

"It now creates problems for me because of his performance.

"Rory is free to play for Saturday and when you look at it both Jay and Joe Gormley did their job at Warrenpoint. They both scored, it was away from home and we won the game so it makes it very difficult to vary from that.

"Linfield is a different game so we need to take stock and see what way the legs and heads feel for Saturday.

"When Linfield come to Solitude, it is always a big game and we must produce a good performance to get the result we want."

Belfast Telegraph

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