Saturday afternoon finally came and Irish League football made its long awaited return with hundreds of Glenmen turning the away end red, green and black at Solitude today. They weren't treated to quite the spectacle they might've hoped for but a point against the champions away from home on the first day is hardly a result many connected with Glentoran were going to argue with come 5pm today.
Immediately manager Eddie Patterson had his arm twisted as a plethora of regular starters were unavailable due to holidays, injuries and suspensions. Starts were handed to Stevie McCullough, Kym Nelson and Mark Miskimmin whilst Niall Henderson slotted in to right back. Good news for Glens' fans though was the sight of Marcus Kane, David Howland and Calum Birney all named amongst the substitutes as they continue their respective recoveries.
Just a minute in and the Glens were already attacking as Fra McCaffrey swivelled and slammed a low shot goalwards that had Cliftonville 'keeper Conor Devlin scrambling across his line to push it wide as the away stand poised to erupt. From the resulting corner the ball fell to Miskimmin who had his back to goal and was unable to direct his volley anywhere near the upright.
After a frantic few minutes the match really quietened down with only a long range McAlorum effort fizzing wide, a Jordan Stewart rocket free-kick being tipped over by Devlin and another effort by McCaffery after Henderson's through ball going wide the action of note in the rest of the opening half an hour. However, with 7 minutes left until half time the Glens really should've gone in front. David Scullion was set free down the right but, with McCaffrey free in the centre, his delivery was poor and Devlin gratefully gathered knowing a better ball would've seen the Glentoran number 4 presented with a tap-in.
Just as the half drew to a close Joe Gormley had a goal correctly ruled out for offside for Cliftonville, but in truth it was a half that the Glens had definitely been in control of and had the far better of the chances as the champions struggled to find their feet. The Glens must work on their free-kicks however, with number of good dead ball positions wasted by being blasted into the wall.
Cliftonville came out and began something of an onslaught on the Glentoran goal with Elliott Morris called into action almost immediately as he smothered at the feet of Gormley and made a low diving stop from Barry Johnston as the ball fizzed through a crowd of bodies. Twenty minutes in and the Reds were definitely on top and having the lion's share of the attacking play and chances, however the entire away stand rose in unison to applaud David Howland's arrival as his recovery nears completion following a horrendous injury last season that kept him out from September until the last game of the season in April.
On 69 minutes Miskimmin raced through on goal only to be cynically scythed down by Jaimie McGovern. To the utter amazement of all Glens fans the referee only brandished a yellow card when a red would have been more suitable, considering McGovern was the last man. With 79 minutes played the Glens thought they'd gone in front as Jordan Stewart rounded Devlin with the ball making its way to McCaffrey who tucked in to an empty net, however the flag went up for offside to cut any celebrations short.
Eighty two minutes in and Howland blasted wide from distance, before 2 minutes later McGovern finally saw red following a poor challenge on John McGuigan. This gave the Glens the impetus to go for goal and with just 5 minutes remaining a corner found Willie Garrett totally unmarked at the back post, but the centre back - who was excellent all day - completely mishit his shot. That was pretty much it apart from in the dying minutes when Danny McKee went through on goal only to again be hacked down by the Reds. Again, the referee opted for yellow when red would've appeared to be the correct decision.
The match ended 0-0 though. A fair result given that the Glens were the superior side in the first half whilst Cliftonville dominated precedings in the second forty five. All eyes look to Wednesday now as we host Big Two rivals Linfield at the Oval, with Warren Feeney making his bow in east Belfast off the back of a 3-0 hammering at Shamrock Park today. Hope to see you all there. Kick off is 7:45pm and it is pay at the gate.
GLENTORAN: Morris - Henderson Garrett Addis McCullough - McAlorum Nelson - Stewart McCaffery Scullion - Miskimmin.
SUBS: McGuigan for Scullion (58), Howland for Nelson (64) and McKee for Miskimmin (71).
SUBS NOT USED: Birney, Kane.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell
Match highlights on BBC Sport NI HERE