Reds boss happy but accepts there's room for improvement
Cliftonville 2 Dungannon Swifts 1
Barry Gray admits that Cliftonville are far from the finished article but encouraged his players to reflect on a job well done against Dungannon Swifts on Saturday.
The Reds found themselves under the cosh in the final 13 minutes, although Gray was quick to point out his men had been in the ascendancy up until that point; Garry Breen and Joe Gormley registering the goals that ensured their first Premiership win since the opening day.
"Credit to Dungannon, they gave us plenty to do towards the end of the game but that shouldn't take away from what happened in the previous 70-odd or 80-odd minutes," he said.
"We're nowhere near the levels we're capable of and it'll take us time to get there, but I'm starting to see greater understanding between players and in certain partnerships.
"The players heard a lot from me during the week and they put a lot of that into practise here. That's not credit to me, that's credit to them, and hopefully we can keep building on that.
"We had most of the possession throughout the game without getting away as many shots as we would have wanted, but you could see Rory (Donnelly) and Joe (Gormley) starting to link up a bit better and the midfielders adapting to what we want them to do.
"Our defenders did their jobs too, so I can't be critical of our performance. It was tough in the final 13 minutes or so but I wouldn't read a great deal into the end of the match because, overall, we deserved to win it."
Breen's thumping header and a well-struck curler from Gormley looked to have put Cliftonville on easy street but the Swifts - whose introduction of subs Kris Lowe, Tommy Lockhart and Alan Teggart sparked an upturn in performance - pulled one back when Jay Donnelly turned Chris Hegarty's header over his own line before seeing a host of late chances to level come and go.
"After going 2-0 down, we've tried to add fresh legs to things and get an extra man up top," explained Rodney McAree.
"It was important we didn't leave ourselves too open or the game could have got away from us, so we needed bodies in the middle of the park to win us the ball and keep us moving forward.
"I always felt if we could get one goal then we could put Cliftonville under a lot of pressure and, because of the way things have gone for them, there was a nervousness we wanted to try and take advantage of but we just ran out of time."
Cliftonville: Long, McGovern, Breen, Curran, Garrett, Bagnall, Gormley, J Donnelly, Cosgrove, A Donnelly, R Donnelly. Subs: Dunne, Harney, Hughes (R Donnelly, 71 mins), Winchester (Garrett, 65 mins), Lavery.
Dungannon: Addis, Hegarty, Wilson, Armstrong, Fitzpatrick, Mayse, McElroy, Harpur, O'Rourke, McMenamin, Burke. Subs: Teggart (O'Rourke, 76 mins), Lowe (Fitzpatrick, 58 mins), Lockhart (Harpur, 63 mins), Hutchinson, Roscoe.
Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)