‘The supporters need a lift and the hope that the season isn’t over’ says Newry City boss Barry Gray ahead of crunch relegation clash
Newry City host Ballymena this evening in what is undoubtedly the club’s biggest game of the season.
City sit rock bottom in the Premiership – a spot which brings automatic relegation – whilst Ballymena sit six points ahead in eleventh place – which would give them a fighting chance to stay up at the end of the season, as they would go into a relegation play-off.
It has been an extremely tough season for Newry, with their last league win coming on October 7, and confirmation from BBC last week that the 65 goals they have shipped so far in the 2023/24 campaign is the most by any top-flight side in Europe. However, victory tonight would mean that all hope is not lost.
Since arriving at the club in early January, new manager Barry Gray has spoke consistently about the need to defeat the teams around them if they are to stay up. With tenth-placed Dungannon Swifts 15 points ahead of Newry and in much better form, Ballymena appear to be the only team who Newry can realistically reel in, to earn themselves a play-off game to stay up.
Gray has got to work in his survival hunt by bringing in Steven Ball, Conor Mitchell, Brandon Doyle, Jamie McDonagh, Fra McCaffrey and Alex O’Brien in the January transfer window.
But Newry go into the game on the back of another low, as they deservingly crashed out of the Irish Cup to Championship side Newington.
Following that game, Gray looked ahead to tonight’s fixture against Ballymena, and he set out his challenge to his players: to go and win the game for the supporters.
“This is not about our first team; this is about Newry City as a club,” Gray told Newry City’s club media channel.
“It’s about everyone who sits in the stand, all the volunteers, all the people who will lift and lay for that first team. If you go out and ask anyone who sits in that stand to do a favour which will help the team, you can be damn sure that the answer will be ‘yes’ from every single person who you ask.
“We spoke to the players about that – we have the luxury of being able to deliver something for those people on Friday night. If we win, the joy won’t be for the players, it will be for everybody who has put in the hard hours and needs a lift and some form of hope that the season isn’t over.”