In a season of many positives a major failure for Eddie Patterson's side will undoubtedly be our poor results in the 'Big Two' fixtures this year. Warren Feeney's first season at Linfield has ended unbeaten against Glentoran, winning three and drawing one of the four games this year. To make matters worse for the Glens, the three times that we have taken the lead were the same three that Linfield won.
Tonight's game was a must-win for Glentoran to keep hopes of a top three place in the NIFL Premiership alive. The Glens looking to bouce back from Saturday's humilating defeat to Glenavon started tentatively and failed to stamp any early authority on the match. Glentoran were wasteful in possession and Linfield were constantly winning it in our final third only to be wasteful themselves with their final ball. The first real chance of the game fell to Linfield's Aaron Burns who got on the end of a Stephen Lowry free-kick to head onto the top of Elliott Morris crossbar. The chance didn't seem to spark the Glentoran defence into life, Willie Garrett unsure whether to head back to the keeper or clear away did neither on the 16th minute and former Glentoran striker Andy Waterworth broke clear only to be stopped by Morris who was quick off his line. Garrett quickly redeemed himself though just a few minutes later as he threw himself infront of another Waterworth shot to deflect the ball wide for a corner.
Glentoran finally came to life after weathering the initial Linfield storm and started to spring a few more passes together. The Glens had their first real opening on 29th minute as David Scullion latched onto a Kym Nelson drive to break clear of the Linfield defence. Tuffey was out quick to narrow the angle and Scullion tried to lift it over the Linfield goalkeeper to the far corner. His effort however was narrowly too high and nestled onto the top netting. The warning sign was there though for Linfield and in Glentoran's best spell we were to create another glorious chance just a minute later. Jordan Stewart played the ball forward to Stephen Gordan who flicked on for Fra McAffery who was clean through on Linfield's goal. Fra took his time, picked his spot and smashed Glentoran into the lead.
It wasn't the last of the action in the first half as more tentative defending for the Glens nearly resulted in a late half equaliser for the Blues. Again it was Waterworth, slicing wide from just 6 yards out under pressure from Willie Garrett. Glentoran led at half time but in truth if things didn't improve Linfield were certain to push in the second period.
It looked as though Glentoran may have lifted their performance for the second half with some early possession at the Sydenham End of the Oval. Jordan Stewart had the first attack of the half, smashing a low shot from the edge of the box powerfully at Tuffey. Either side of the Linfield goalkeeper would have caused him serious problems but the effort went straight at Tuffey who saved well.
Unfortunately that was the last positive to come from Glentoran's evening who went down with little fight after that conceding two poor goals to give Linfield the points. On the 58th minute Glentoran didn't clear a Linfield cross on a number of occassions and right back Glen Belezika's quick feet as he burst into the area were too strong for Marcus Kane who lunged in and although he tried to pull out gave away a fairly clear penalty. Aaron Burns calmly slotted home to bring Linfield level. The Blues kept pushing and it seemed to be only a matter of time before the winner came.
Glentoran did pass up a massive opportunity soon after as Danny McKee raced clear of Linfield's defence but more confusion in Glentoran players on the ball meant he lost his footing when trying to take the ball around Tuffey who easily won the ball off our young forward. On 72nd minute came controversy as Stephen Gordan's cross from the right hand side struck a Linfield defender to cries of handball from Glentoran players and fans alike. It looked close and Glentoran players surrounded referee Colin Burns.
Linfield grabbed the winner on 75th minute through another soft goal from Glentoran's perspective. Elliott Morris may feel he could have done better for Glenavon's opener on Saturday and for Glentoran's captain it was a similar woe tonight as again he failed to deal with an in-swinging corner into his six yard box. He attempted to punch the ball clear but was too slow and Mark Haughey reached it first heading easily into the vacant net.
Aaron Burns had the chance to make matters worse for Glentoran just three minutes later as he powered another free Linfield header straight at a grateful Morris as anything other than straight at the Glens keeper would have surely resulted in a killer Linfield goal. It proved unimportant in the end though as Glentoran failed to offer any threat in the final 15 minutes once again missing the grit of Stephen McAlorum in midfield and the clinical forward play of Curtis Allen up front.
Linfield eased home to a deserved victory and with news of a win for Portadown tonight over Crusaders, Glentoran's European bid is now reliant on the Irish Cup Final on 2nd May.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Highlights on BBC Sport NI HERE
Glentoran: Morris (capt), Henderson, Kane, Birney, Garrett, Nelson, Gordon, Scullion, Stewart, McCaffrey & McKee.
Sub: McCullough for Nelson (81). Unused: Hogg, O'Hanlon, Addis & Calvert.