Glentoran sit one point off second place in the Danske Bank Premiership table this evening after a spectacular second half performance saw them batter the Bannsiders in Coleraine.
With Crusaders, Linfield and Cliftonville failing to take full points from their respective fixtures and Portadown and Glenavon suffering defeats, today was a prime opportunity for Eddie Patterson's side to make up the margin that had been growing ever smaller after a shocking September had been overruled by a solid start to October. Unfortunately, the early signs didn't look good for the east Belfast outfit as several key players found themselves either injured or suspended for today's encounter. Therefore, Kevin Bradley filled in as a makeshift centre back, and in-form Marcus Kane was deployed as a centre-midfielder.
With recent matches frequently resulting in the points being shared between Glentoran and Coleraine, it seemed as though the trend would continue to flourish after a relatively uneventful opening 15 minutes in which neither side had any real chance of note. However, that changed on 17 minutes as Richard Clarke - making his 199th appearance in the famous red, green and black strip - first fired wide for the away team, before Steven Lowry saw his fizzing volley fly straight into the grateful arms of Elliott Morris. In the subsequent frantic few minutes, Eddie Patterson's men had three chances to open the scoring however Kane, Mark Clarke and Jordan Stewart all saw their efforts amount to nothing.
Stewart - handed his first career start in the league - was giving the Coleraine defenders a torrid time with his dazzling wing play, and the young Northern Ireland U19 star was first unlucky with a 25 yard drive that rasped past Wayne Drummond's right-hand post, before another two similar shots suffered the same fate. However, in what was a fairly even contest, neither side really looked like scoring but unfortunately for Bradley, he soon did. Right on the stroke of half time Coleraine broke, Gareth Tommons fired a powerful cross into the box and the Glentoran defender was in the wrong place at the wrong time; chesting it into the bottom corner of his own net.
As the team stepped back out onto the pitch, it was clear that the interval had allowed them to regroup and gather themselves, because what followed was arguably one of the best Glentoran performances since that magical day in May. On 47 minutes, the away team equalised with a terrific team move. Clarke played the ball out to Ryan O'Neill who in-turn found Marcus Kane. His flick-on fell to Jim O'Hanlon who, without breaking stride, swept past Howard Beverland and slotted his strike into the bottom corner. It was exactly what Glentoran needed, however just two minutes later they went in front! Clarke threaded a sumptuous ball through to Mark Miskimmin who - at the second time of asking - poked home from six yards to send the travelling support into raptures.
It was almost three on 49 minutes, as Stewart found Clarke in acres of space only for the former Newry City ace to blaze over from the edge of the box. This let off seemed to kick-start Coleraine though, with three stunning Elliott Morris saves keeping the Glens in front as Beverland, Joel Bradley and Tommons all failed to level proceedings - and on 65 minutes it appeared to be game, set and match. Michael Hegarty committed an atrocious two-footed lunge on Jordan Stewart, prompting referee Raymond Crangle to send the Bannsiders defender for an early bath. Strangely though, this seemed to spur the home side on even more as they came within a whisker of equalising just three minutes later. Beverland's audacious yet brilliant lobbed pass found David Ogilby however the big centre-back powered his header against the woodwork when he really should've scored.
With 81 minutes on the clock, O'Hanlon displayed another flash of utter brilliance as he accelerated, dizzied two Coleraine defenders and was only denied what would've been an incredible solo goal by a magnificent one-handed Drummond diving save. There were fears among the travelling Glenmen that that miss would come back to haunt their team after Jimmy Callacher made a brilliant block of a shot that was destined to ripple Morris' net - however with seconds left those fears were put to rest as Glentoran made it 3-1. Jordan Stewart raced clear of the chasing Coleraine defenders and, after his shot was saved by Drummond, substitute John McGuigan poked into an empty net for his first goal at the Oval club, and in doing so sent the vociferous away support into a wonderful rendition of "Bless 'Em All".
GLENTORAN: Morris - O'Neill Callacher Bradley Hill - R.Clarke M.Clarke Kane - O'Hanlon Miskimmin Stewart
SUBS: McGuigan for O'Hanlon (88)
SUBS NOT USED: Hogg Garrett Henderson Hughes
Photographs by Thomas Sewell
Highlights on BBC Sport NI HERE