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Barry Gray hopes focus returns to on-pitch drama after cup brawl


Barry Gray

Barry Gray

�INPHO/Brian Little

Barry Gray

Warrenpoint Town boss Barry Gray wants to be talking about events on the pitch at Milltown against champions Linfield tomorrow.

After last weekend's controversial Irish Cup tie at home to Ballymena United, Gray felt it was irrelevant to talk about the match itself.

"The game was insignificant due to events that finished the game," stated Gray following his side's 2-1 defeat against the Sky Blues.

At both ends of the table, the encounter with the Blues is sure to be hugely significant. David Healy's men are back at the top after their midweek success over Dungannon at Windsor Park while Warrenpoint are just two points ahead of basement side Institute in the relegation battle.

Teenage goalkeeper Mark Byrne will be absent for Warrenpoint due to suspension following his red card versus Ballymena.

Before that dismissal, Byrne jumped off the pitch over a fence behind the goal and video footage showed him fighting and grappling with Ballymena supporters.

Post-match claims and counter claims were flying around.

There were allegations from Ballymena fans that the young goalkeeper spat at them and home supporters alleged that Byrne had been the subject of verbal abuse from United fans throughout the game and that his father had been attacked behind the goal, with Warrenpoint followers suggesting that was the reason why the goalkeeper left the field of play in an attempt to protect his dad.

Then came tough statements from both clubs with Warrenpoint claiming that Byrne was "physically assaulted" and the subject of "sectarian verbal abuse" last Saturday with Ballymena responding with a complete rejection of both claims, adding that they were "extremely disappointed" at the contents of what the Milltown outfit had said.

It is up to the Irish FA disciplinary committee to rule on what happens next. Town boss Gray has already said that he expects Byrne to face punishment. In the meantime, Warrenpoint, with ex-Loughgall man Gareth Buchanan set to be between the sticks, know they need points in their battle to avoid the drop.

It will be difficult securing any against Linfield, who in December won 2-0 at Warrenpoint with goals from Andy Waterworth and Shayne Lavery.

"In that game we lost a sloppy goal after just 47 seconds and another one in injury time but in between I felt we competed well. Our aim was to keep it tight and frustrate Linfield and I felt we did for long periods," said Gray after the last meeting.

It will be the same tactics tomorrow. Gray will order his troops not to concede early and hope his team's football makes headlines this time around.

• Matthew Ferguson is the Championship Player of the Month for January.

The Harland & Wolff Welders striker, on loan from Glenavon, scored five goals in the month, including braces in wins over Knockbreda and Ards.

"I'm delighted to win the award. I scored five goals and actually had another two ruled out," he said. "Gary Smyth has done so well since returning to the club, we're glad to have him back and our aim now is to push for the top six in the league."

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