Belfast Telegraph

Common sense went missing in League Cup semi-final disaster, blasts Cliftonville boss Gray


By Graham Luney

Cliftonville manager Barry Gray has slammed the third postponement of his side's BetMcLean League Cup semi-final as 'unprofessional'.

The reds were due to play Ballymena United at the Showgrounds on Tuesday evening but the game was eventually postponed due to a frozen pitch - the third time the fixture has been put back.

The playing surface was deemed playable after a mid-afternoon inspection by referee Evan Boyce - despite the freezing weather conditions - but the match was called off just before 6pm after match official Keith Kennedy checked out the pitch.

Gray blasted: "We want to do things right but this is all very unprofessional and it reflects badly on those who want our game to move forward. The League Cup is a senior competition and if we are trying to bring some professionalism to the game we are going about it the wrong way."

The final is scheduled to take place at Windsor Park on Saturday, February 17 with Dungannon Swifts lying in wait.

Representatives from both clubs will meet with NIFL chiefs today in an attempt to finalise another date for the fixture.

The tie was originally scheduled for December 12 but fell victim of the freezing conditions and was called off for the same reason on the second scheduled date on January 16.

Gray added: “What’s happened is crazy, it’s a disaster.

“It was obvious earlier in the day that the pitch was not going to be playable and the surrounding area was not safe. Sadly, common sense was missing as it was obvious with the freezing temperatures it wasn’t going to improve. There is no appreciation for the impact these decisions have on the players and management as well as the supporters. We had a pre-match meal organised and players who are working needed to organise time off.

“There should be pitch inspections around 12.30pm and final decisions taken. I know there’s a frustration when games are postponed but we’ve got to consider how these issues affect clubs.

“There have been other incidents of fixtures being postponed at late notice and it’s just madness. Maybe the way forward is to play all semi-finals at neutral venues and artificial surfaces should be considered.

“Do the Northern Ireland Football League have a plan B? This is the third time this fixture has been postponed and the final is next Saturday. I don’t know who we are playing on Saturday or how I should approach training on Thursday night.

“Meanwhile, Dungannon Swifts are already through to the final and can continue their preparations. How is that fair to us and Ballymena United when we might have suspensions and injuries to worry about too?”

One option is to postpone the league games involving Cliftonville and United this weekend and play the fixture on Saturday.

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey rejected the suggestion the tie could be switched to Solitude.

“We were drawn out of the hat first and any suggestion that this would be taken away from Ballymena is totally and utterly wrong,” said Jeffrey.

Belfast Telegraph


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