Two early Curtis Allen strikes were enough for Glentoran to claim all three points at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena this afternoon. Alan Kernaghan made two changes to the side that beat Portadown 2-1 last Saturday with Stephen Rice and Chris Lavery making way for Chris Morrow and Steven McCullough. The Glentoran manager will have rightly expected a testing afternoon as the home side came into the game fresh from an impressive 4-3 win over league leaders Crusaders.
The opening ten minutes were a cagey affair with both sides struggling to maintain possession in the midfield. Rangers came closest in the early stages as an early James Wright corner flashed across the Glentoran goal. Shortly after that Curtis Allen got his first opening of the afternoon but he dragged his tight angled shot well wide. Three minutes later the in form frontman made no mistake. Elliott Morris’ long pass cleared the jumping Andrew Doyle and Allen latched onto it, shrugged off the challenge of home captain Aaron Smyth and slid his shot past Brian Neeson from a tight angle. Unfortunately the lead lasted barely four minutes. Carrick won a free kick on the touchline 20 yards from goal and James Wright curled it right into the top corner of Elliott Morris’ goal. The Carrick man’s reaction would suggest it was more an overhit cross than a shot but nevertheless Morris will be disappointed to have been beaten in such fashion. Between the two goals Glens captain Marcus Kane attempted replicate his scorching volley from our last visit to Carrickfergus but his rasping left footed effort flashed harmlessly wide.
Curtis Allen caused problems for the relegation threatened side’s defence all day and on the quarter hour mark he grabbed his second and what turned out to be the decisive goal. Allen himself won a free kick which David Scullion floated over and Curtis found himself free to power home a header, notching his 20th goal of the season. Glentoran seemed to take confidence from the goal and pushed for a third. Chris Morrow curled over after McCullough had a right foot shot blocked and David Scullion blasted over after more neat build up. The longer the game went on it became clear that Carrick’s greatest threat came from set pieces; a cheap foul 30 yards out allowed James Wright to line another shot up and his pacey attempt was somewhat unconventionally palmed away one handed by Morris. Just before the interval, potentially inspired by the piece of goalkeeping invention at the other end, Brian Neeson bizarrely kneed a Glentoran corner clear only for the ball to come immediately back into the box but McCaffrey’s scissor volley didn’t punish the Carrick keeper. Carrick finished the half the stronger with two half chances, firstly a superb challenge from Jay Magee was bizarrely deemed a foul by Andrew Davey and Wright’s cross was almost diverted in by the sliding Andrew Doyle. Then right on half time Linfield loanee Adam Salley was slid behind the defence by McCloskey but he was well marshalled by Magee and then Holland who prevented the shot reaching the Glentoran goal. Half Time Carrick Rangers 1-2 Glentoran.
The half time break saw a sharp rain shower which despite subsiding as the game restarted, clearly impacted the game as it took 10 minutes in the second half for either team to create any chance of note in the slick conditions. Steven McCullough produced a moment of quality to beat Smyth and cross towards Allen but it was just out of the reach of the man searching for a hat trick. On the hour Glentoran had a free kick in a good position after Allen was clattered into again but once more the offender escaped punishment both from the referee and from Glentoran as the over complicated passing move came to nothing. After that a private battle broke out between Curtis Allen and Rangers keeper Brian Neeson, Allen being denied on three occasions. Firstly Ciaran Caldwell played Allen through with a beautiful long pass but Neeson produced an excellent reflex save. Allen then hooked wide from a long Scullion throw in and then was thwarted as he attempted to clip the ball over Neeson as defenders Smyth and Doyle once again struggled to deal with the ball over the top.
Chris Morrow also came close as his curling effort was tipped over by the excellent Neeson, that effort coming after excellent work and tenacity from Kane and McCullough on the left flank. That save led to a string of Glentoran corners with none of them resulting in a serious effort on goal. At that point, with 15 minutes left and nothing to lose, Carrick pushed forward with winger McCloskey almost finding substitute Miguel Chines. Thankfully for the visitors a combination of Addis and Magee snuffed out the chance. Another substitute Ben Roy was then involved in a tussle with Barry Holland after another cross from the right but the experience of Holland told as he prevented the shot and calmly brought the ball away. Carrick’s only other real foray into the Glentoran box saw Chines slide for a ball with Morris but this only resulted in a goal kick much to the frustrations of the former Knockbreda man and the Carrick support. As the game moved into injury time the home side couldn’t find an equaliser and Glentoran could have killed the game on the break; firstly Allen was scuppered once more in his attempts to claim the match ball. In the final minute of stoppage time another long pass saw Allen attempt to turn provider but his cross was somehow blocked by Glenn Taggart with substitute Jonny Smith waiting to tap in.
Full time Carrick Rangers 1-2 Glentoran. All in all a good Glentoran performance in testing conditions. Alan Kernaghan will be looking at consecutive games against Coleraine as a chance to close the gap on the Bannsiders and perhaps lay down a marker ahead of a potential European Playoff encounter at the end of the season. The first of these games takes place at The Oval on Tuesday night with kick off at 7.45.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Glentoran : Morris, Holland, Addis, Magee, Kane (capt), Morrow, Caldwell, Scullion, McCullough, McCaffrey (sub Smith 82) & Allen. Subs not used: Hogg, Birney, Gibson, Nelson.