Second half goals from Jonathan Smith and Fra McCaffrey gave Glentoran a vital three points in tight encounter at the Oval this afternoon. There were a couple of changes from the defeat at Portadown with Barry Holland and captain Stephen McAlorum returning to the side after suspension.
The Glens created the first chance of the game after five minutes when Niall Henderson's pass found Jonathan Smith on the left and the teenager crossed onto the head of Curtis Allen, but he was stretching to get over the ball and the header went over the bar. Cliftonville didn't threaten until the 13th minute when Tomas Cosgrove's dangerous cross was well dealt with by Elliott Morris. It was a landmark 598th appearance today for the Glentoran number one as he moved into second place in the all time list ahead of Paul Leeman. On 15 minutes his opposite number Conor Devlin was called into action, coming quickly off his line to snuff out a chance for Allen after good work by Smith and Steven McCullough. Ten minutes later Stephen Garrett headed over the bar from a Martin Donnelly free kick and before the half time whistle the visitors came closer still, Garrett this time supplying the cross for Chris Curran whose shot from 12 yards brought a great diving save from Morris.
After the break Cliftonville had the chance to take the lead when James Knowles found space in the box after a defensive error but Barry Holland was back quickly to snuff out the danger. However the breakthrough goal came at the other end after 55 minutes. After a spell of home pressure Henderson hooked the ball into the Cliftonville box, the ball was only half cleared and it fell nicely for Smith who rolled his fourth goal of the season into the bottom corner from 18 yards. Cliftonville went in search of an equaliser and Morris had to be smartly off his line to thwart substitute Jay Donnelly after he was played in by Garrett. Midway through the half Holland almost grabbed his first goal for the Glens when his fierce drive from just outside the box rippled the side netting after a knock down from Smith.
As the half progressed the visitors pushed further forward in an effort to rescue a point but, save for a deflected Jay Donnelly cross which had to be palmed away by Morris, they had no real clear cut chances to match their possession. And despite the Glens having to re-jig when McAlorum retired injured after a poor tackle from Knowles there was little to panic the solid back four of Holland, Addis, Magee and McCullough. Nevertheless there was a certain amount of relief around the stadium when the Glens grabbed the insurance goal two minutes into added time. Fra McCaffrey, a half time substitute for Marcus Kane, picked the pocket of Tomas Cosgrove and ran into the acres of space left as the visitors pushed forward looking for a late equaliser. He had options in the middle but bided his time and confidently blasted the ball across Devlin and into the back of the net to clinch the three points.
A vital win after Monday's defeat at Shamrock Park leaving us in 6th place but, more importantly, 6 points clear of 7th placed Portadown after their defeat at Dungannon. Players, staff and supporters will now be looking forward with confidence to the big Boxing Day game with old rivals Linfield at the Oval.
Elliott Morris, Barry Holland, Jay Magee, Jonathan Addis, Marcus Kane (sub Fra McCaffrey half time), Steven Gordon, Niall Henderson (sub Karl Hamill 86 mins), Stephen McAlorum (sub Ciaran Caldwell 70 mins), Steven McCullough, Jonathan Smith, Curtis Allen
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.