CLIFTONVILLE manager Barry Gray believes his side’s recent 2-1 win over a Swansea City XI was their best performance of their pre-season thus far.
Despite falling behind to an early Jordan Garrick goal, the Reds fought back and levelled against the Premier League U23 winners through Jay Donnelly and then sealed the win with a towering Garry Breen header before the break.
The Reds were back in action on Tuesday evening, entertaining Newry City and a brace apiece from Joe Gormley and Jay Donnelly along with strikes from Stephen Garrett and Ross Lavery saw the Solitude men run out 6-0 winners over the newly promoted Championship One outfit.
Gray was particularly satisfied that his side was able to match a strong and physical Swansea side and further praised the work ethic of his players since they began their pre-season campaign.
“Swansea has probably been the best game so far,” said Gray.
“Not because of the opposition, but we saw the most against Swansea that we’ve seen in any game so far.
“We were pleased with our conditioning levels. We are getting to where we need to be. We matched largely a full-time physical team, the way Swansea are from a conditioning point of view.
“The boys look like they are starting to understand the system and what we are asking about. We still have lots to work on, don’t get me wrong but we’re only three weeks into pre-season.
“We’ll be three weeks into the season and we won’t have worked on everything that we should and want to have worked on.
“Being respectful to where we are at this minute, I think against Swansea we started to see some of the positive signs to go forward.
“I don’t want to be focussing on what we still need to work on because the boys have been brilliant and have worked really, really hard for us over the last three weeks of pre-season, but we’ve been in three to four weeks prior to that.
“I think the understanding is coming together that wee bit, but we need to see more of that now in the next three weeks, but it’s a good start and a good position to be in at the minute.”
In the aftermath of the Reds’ first pre-season game in which they were beaten 1-0 by a Dundalk XI, assistant manager Harry Fay felt that they were only playing at 60 per cent of their capabilities.
Gray doesn’t feel they are yet at their full capabilities, but believes they are heading in the direction they wish to be ahead of the season’s opener against Ards on August 12.
“It’s very hard to put a per centage on it, but I wouldn’t say we are anywhere near where we want to be,” offered Gray.
“We are only half way through our first pre-season campaign and it’s only now we’re learning the players and the players are learning what we’re asking them to do.
“Whether we are at 60, 70, 80 or 100 per cent, it doesn’t really matter now.
“In three weeks’ time it will be what we’re at then that will matter.
“I think we’re on course to be where we need to be come the first game and while it’s nice to go out and compete in the pre-season games and get out of it what we need – get the results the wins and the winning mentality – I would swap it all for three points in the opening game.”
Gray was pleased with the performance of Joe Gormley who bagged a brace on his return to action having missed the Swansea clash at the weekend.
The Reds boss feels Gormley will need to be patient upon his return to competitive action after missing almost 18 months through injury and ineligibility, but has backed him to return to his former self naturally.
“Swansea would have been the ideal game for Joe to play in because they wouldn’t know him first of all,” said Gray.
“He has that challenge this year. He has been out for 12 or 18 months so we can’t discard that. He’s not going to come back in one or two games and be 100 per cent.
“I thought Joe did really well against Newry, but I thought we maybe did him an injustice because he didn’t get on the scoresheet as much as what we could have actually encouraged him to get on it.
“I think there is a willingness there from our other strikers and players around him to help Joe as much because we know he is such an important part of our plans going forward this season.
“He wants to be back on top of his form as quickly as possible and maybe he needs to have that wee bit of patience. It is going to take another wee patch to move him up another notch and keep doing that.
“For us it is about keeping his confidence levels high, making sure he knows when he does well and what he’s doing well and the goals.
“Joe Gormley is a goalscorer, he doesn’t need me to coach him in that or any of the staff to coach him.
“That will come naturally and at the minute it is just about bedding him into the team.”