Following a public resolution to his short-term standing, Barry Gray is backing Cliftonville’s in-house long-term gameplan as cause for confidence.
Gray’s Reds hit the road to tackle Dungannon Swifts in search of back-to-back league wins as a response to an Irish Cup exit against the same opposition.
That knockout blow marked the second cup success over Cliftonville this season by the Swifts and served to increase speculation over Gray’s future following five consecutive defeats.
Amid the recriminations, Gray and Cliftonville officials took time to reflect - with conversations leading the under-fire boss to offer public thanks for support from the Solitude hierarchy.
Within a season staged under the cloud of negativity on and off the field, Gray retains his belief in the shared vision of manager and boardroom towards rebuilding.
“It is not about me, it’s about the collective and everyone accepts we have under-performed but we still have European football as a goal and go to Dungannon off the back of a good win over Ards,” said Gray. “There is a perception over what has gone on but the club have supported me in the past and continue to do so, so we work hard together on the next game, the transfer window and concentrating on moving forward.
“When I joined the club we discussed a long-term plan, which is still in place and part of a process.
“It is not about the need to refocus, we accept and identify what did not work and understand it is part of football.
“We have had ongoing issues which needed due consideration but we have perspective and trust in that process.
“In football you enjoy the good times and know the bad times will often be horrendous.
“We take everything one game at a time and know Saturday is a massive match.”
Gray took additional steps this week towards his squad restructure by securing Aaron Harkin and Seanna Foster from, respectively, Institute and Warrenpoint Town, on pre-contract agreements. A decision was also made to place Damien McNulty and Conor McMenamin on the transfer list, with Aaron Donnelly and Thomas Maguire available for loan.
Kris Lindsay’s own rebuilding work since stepping into the Swifts hot-seat last September has included Cliftonville as a common theme following three meetings between the clubs across as many competitions inside seven weeks.
Double cup delight for Dungannon was tempered by a 5-1 defeat in the Danske Bank Premiership which served as a setback to Lindsay’s ambitions of escape from a relegation dogfight.
Lindsay’s target is to turn memories of those cup highlights into sustained momentum towards vital league points.
“We are coming off the back of three consecutive away games that left us unbeaten against Glentoran, Cliftonville and Ballymena United,” said Lindsay. “It feels like we have played Cliftonville so often in my time at the Swifts and that December league game offered us every example of the firepower they possess.
“We must be on top defensively but, as always at home, look to be positive and make sure we do not waste the positives from those away games.
“I’ve full faith in the squad and it’s about keeping those points ticking over.”