Glentoran faced Cliftonville tonight following two poor results from both sides at the weekend. Glentoran were controversially defeated 1-0 by Ballinamallard whilst Cliftonville were surprisingly blown away by Coleraine at Solitude. Glentoran were without Aaron Hogg and Stephen Gordon who were both unfortunate to be sent off in Saturday's defeat. Debutant Stephen Rice replaced Gordon in midfield whilst Aaron Hogg was replaced by Elliott Morris in goals despite still struggling with injury. Development squad goalkeeper Adam McCormick was on the bench.
Glentoran got off to the worst possible start to the game which ultimately would prove costly. Twice in the opening two minutes Glentoran defenders sliced clearances nervously out for throw ins and the home side struggled to settle in the game. On the sixth minute, Cliftonville took advantage. Reds' skipper George McMullan split Glentoran's defence with an excellent ball to Jay Donnelly who ran clear on Morris' goal. Glentoran defenders rushed back in vain as Donnelly took his time and placed his shot under Morris. The Glens' keeper got something on it but not enough to keep the ball out of the Glentoran goal; 1-0 Cliftonville early on.
Glentoran were nearly made to pay further for the lacklustre start by falling asleep from a Cliftonville set piece. The free kick was played short to Daniel Hughes whose shot deflected clear of the Glentoran net. This scare seemed to spark Glentoran into life and for the rest of the first half the Glens dominated. The early stages continued at a frantic pace. Cliftonville could have been 2-0 up after 7 minutes and Glentoran could have had two goals themselves after 9 minutes! Curtis Allen had a great chance on the 8th minute after turning brilliantly on the edge of the box onto his favoured left foot only for his curling effort to be excellently stopped by Cliftonville goalkeeper Conor Devlin. From the resulting corner Jonathan Smith delivered a great ball and, following a knock down in the box, Calum Birney flashed a half volley from 8 yards out narrowly over the bar. With the pace and power on the ball, if the shot hit the target it was undoubtedly in.
Glentoran continued to press for a deserved equaliser. On 11th minute Chris Lavery showed some tidy footwork on the left wing crossing well into the box. Curtis Allen got free of his man and met the header at the front post only for it to sail just wide of the post. Another good chance a-begging. On 19th minute Glentoran were foiled by Conor Devlin once more. Good work from Curtis Allen saw him tee up an unlikely shooter in Barry Holland who on his weaker foot curled a brilliant shot at Devlin's top corner only for the Cliftonville keeper to tip over again. Almost a copy of Curtis Allen's previous curling effort.
Cliftonville will say to their credit that they rode Glentoran's storm and eventually settled into the game. Glentoran's pressure was not enough as the chances started to dry up as the half went on. Allen did go close again with an excellent free kick towards the far post which bounced awkwardly in front of Devlin. He managed to tip just over the crossbar. Devlin had been Cliftonville's hero in the first half but he was lucky this one didn't creep in after an unconvincing save. Cliftonville almost rubbed salt further in the wounds of the first half by having a half-chance right on the 45th minute, Stephen Garrett connecting with a volley in the box which sailed harmlessly over. Cliftonville held an undeserved 1-0 lead at half time. Jay Magee was withdrawn at the break injured for Kristian Gibson.
The disappointment in not getting the goal in the first half must have taken its toll on Glentoran who didn't reach their own first half standards at all in the second period. When previously moving the ball quickly and looking dangerous on the attack, Glentoran were sloppy and wasteful in the early exchanges. Daniel Hughes got on the end of a good ball through the Glentoran defence on 48th minute but his shot flashed into the side netting. On 49th minute David McDaid had his first real opportunity of the game. Picking up space just outside the Glentoran box he was easily allowed to turn and curl an effort at Morris. His effort though curled over the bar, he really should have done better with so much space.
Cliftonville's second goal was coming and on 57th minute Stephen Garrett supplied it. Daniel Hughes slid the ball through to Garrett who escaped Gibson and finished perfectly, dinking the ball over Morris dive into the far corner. The goal took the sting out of any Glentoran challenge. After so much positivity in the first half, Glentoran never really looked like getting a result from this point. Dale Patton was thrown on by Alan Kernaghan to boost Glentoran's attacking options although the decision to withdraw Curtis Allen caused raised eyebrows amongst Glentoran supporters. The Glens top scorer wasn't pleased, taking out his frustration on an advertising board on his way off the pitch.
As the game wore on Cliftonville looked more and more comfortable. From a goalmouth scramble Daniel Hughes could have made it three but his effort missed the target. Glentoran finally offered a threat in the second half, Jonathan Smith connecting well with a volley only to be deflected wide for a corner. Stephen Rice nearly marked his debut with a goal on 89th minute, hooking a corner goalwards only for it to be cleared off the line.
Cliftonville eased home though for a comfortable win. It seemed hard to believe Glentoran were losing the game by half time but no doubt by full time Cliftonville were comfortable winners.
Glentoran: Morris, Holland, Magee, Birney, Kane, Addis, Rice, Caldwell, Lavery, Smith, Allen
Subs: Gibson for Magee, Patton for Allen, Scullion for Caldwell
Photographs by Thomas Sewell