Two second half goals were enough to give Glentoran a convincing victory at Solitude this afternoon; their first league win at the North Belfast venue since 2011. Glens manager Alan Kernaghan made two changes to the side that drew at Coleraine last Saturday with Fra McCaffrey coming in for Stevie McCullough and Steven Gordon slotting in at centre back for Jay Magee who became ill overnight. Glentoran came in unbeaten in 4 whilst Cliftonville hadn’t lost any of their previous 3 games.
Both sides started tentatively in the changeable conditions with little happening early on. Two George McMullan fouls gave Curtis Allen a chance to line up a couple of early sighters. Whilst Allen’s first effort sailed over, the second was well saved low to his right by Peter Burke who was deputising for the injured Conor Devlin in the home goal. Shortly after Burke was forced into a similar save from Johnny Addis, the versatile defender had driven into open space in the midfield and fizzed a left footed effort at goal. From there Cliftonville began to gain a foothold and on the quarter hour mark Marc Smyth flashed a header just over Morris’ crossbar. As the weather took a turn for the worse Jay Donnelly was left free and from his hanging cross Jonny Flynn powered a header through the falling hail but Morris reacted sharply moving back across his goal to palm the ball to safety.
With 25 minutes gone Steven Gordon made his only mistake of an otherwise commanding dominant display as his misjudgement let Davy McDaid in behind the defence. Just as it looked like the former Derry City frontman was going to pick his spot Gordon made amends with a perfect sliding tackle. This sparked Glentoran into life again and after an excellent one touch interchange between Allen, Morrow, Scullion and Smith; Ciaran Caldwell was close to applying the finish to Smith's cross. Moments later David Scullion was unlucky as his volley was tipped wide by Peter Burke and his disappointment was compounded as he saw that a goal kick was the frustrating result. Each side then swapped chances before the interval, firstly a surging run from Reds left back Levi Ives caused problems in the Glentoran defence but Morris reacted well to beat McDaid to the through ball. Down the other end David Scullion wasted the best chance of the half for the visitors as after winning an aerial contest with Ives his left foot blast went well over the crossbar. This brought an even first half to a close which despite the lack of goals was reasonably entertaining. Halftime Cliftonville 0-0 Glentoran.
Whatever Alan Kernaghan said at the interval seemed to work wonders as Glentoran seized control of the match with an excellent 20 minute spell after the break. Marc Smith headed narrowly over from an early Cliftonville corner but from that point it was almost one way traffic for the next quarter of an hour. Fra McCaffrey found himself with space in the Cliftonville penalty area but his shot was well saved by the onrushing Burke. From the resulting corner Glentoran took the lead. Jonny Smiths’ bouncing delivery wasn’t cleared and Glentoran captain Marcus Kane reacted first, smashing a left footed shot low into the far corner of the net. The home side almost hit back immediately but Steven Gordon rescued the Glens with another well timed sliding intervention following a giveaway in the Glentoran midfield. The midfield combination of Chris Morrow and Ciaran Caldwell were linking well, patrolling the middle of the park together and it was the former Cliftonville man Caldwell who created the second as his looping cross was met by the sliding Curtis Allen. Allen finished well with Burke in no-mans land. As the players rushed to congratulate Allen, Ciaran’s reaction on the other side of the pitch certainly showed how much he enjoyed his part in the goal!
In the final 20 minutes Glentoran shut the game down reasonably well. Daniel Hughes tried to stir the home side with a good probing run but Morris was equal to his shot from a tight angle. Jay Donnelly wasted the home side’s best chance with 10 minutes remaining; he did brilliantly to spin off of his marker and kill a cross with one touch but his strike from 8 yards ended up high amongst the away support. The game ended quietly despite what looked a bizarre late booking for Kane who was deemed to be timewasting by referee Keith Kennedy even though he didn’t have a ball with which to take a throw in. However, Alan Kernaghan will be delighted with how his side saw out the closing minutes with the only late danger coming from another Ives shot but it rolled harmlessly wide of Morris’ post.
Full time Cliftonville 0-2 Glentoran.
A pleasing performance and an excellent three points for Glentoran who will look to build momentum as they proceed towards the European playoffs. Next up is the final 'Big Two' Derby of the season as we welcome Linfield to the Oval on Tuesday night. Kick off is at 7.45 and admission is by pay as the gate. NO tickets are required for this fixture.
Glentoran: Morris, Holland, Kane, Caldwell, Addis, Gordon, Morrow, Scullion, McCaffrey (sub McCullough 72), Allen, Smith. Subs not used: Hogg, Gibson, Nelson, Patton.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell