Glentoran moved into second place in the Danske Bank Premiership with a deserved win at Solitude tonight. Second half goals from Rory Donnelly and Ciaran O'Connor made in 9 games unbeaten for the Glens as we approach the split.
There were several changes to the team tonight. Captain Marcus Kane was missing through injury and also out was 'Player of the Season' contender, Luke McCullough. That resulted in a restructuring of the back four; Rhys Marshall at right-back, Joe Crowe and Caolan Marron in the centre of defence and Paddy McClean, skipper for the night, playing left-back. Cricky Gallagher returned to the midfield alongside Gael Bigirimana with the attacking threat coming from Jay & Rory Donnelly, Jamie McDonagh and Andrew Mitchell.
Glentoran might have had a penalty within the opening 90 seconds when there was a clear push on Jay Donnelly by Garry Breen. Whilst the referee Christopher Morrison was possibly unsighted, the incident was in clear view of his assistant but nothing was given. Both teams had a go in the opening quarter of an hour with Aaron Donnelly having an effort from 20-yards well saved by Rory Brown whilst at the other end an excellent cross from the right from Jamie McDonagh was met by Jay Donnelly but his header was deflected over the crossbar. McDonagh fired in another right wing cross shortly afterwards but although both Jay and Rory Donnelly challenged for the ball it went out for a goal kick.
On 18 minutes Jay Donnelly unleashed a powerful shot from just outside the box but Reds defender Garry Breen managed to get his head in the way and concede a corner. The game then stagnated somewhat with both teams cancelling each other out. In the 10 minutes leading up to the interval though the Glens began to take a grip on proceedings and probably should have edged in front. Gallagher, Bigirimana and Mitchell linked well to create a chance for Jay Donnelly but he fired well over the top. On 36 minutes Andrew Mitchell also had a half chance but frustratingly the ball wouldn't sit down quickly enough for him and he too cleared the crossbar with his shot.
Perhaps the best opportunity came after a superb run from Rhys Marshall. He carried the ball deep into the Cliftonville half and picked out Rory Donnelly on the left wing. Rory cut in past the first defender and found Jay Donnelly who struck the ball first time. Ryan O'Reilly got in an excellent block though to deny the Glens top marksman.
Halftime: Cliftonville 0-0 Glentoran
Stand in captain, Paddy McClean had the first effort of the second half but his long range shot lacked power and was easily gathered by Aaron McCarey in the home goal. Rory Hale went close for the Reds on 50 minutes but his shot from a tight angle went into the side netting. A few minutes later the ball broke to Hale again but this time he dragged his shot wide of Rory Brown's goal. On 56 minutes Jamie McDonagh was replaced by Robbie McDaid and the Glentoran number 11 was involved in the opening goal just 3 minutes later.
The goal, just before the hour mark, involved all four strikers. As the Glens drove forward, Jay Donnelly picked out Robbie McDaid on the edge of the 'D'. McDaid played an excellent pass to Andrew Mitchell who clipped the ball across the keeper to give Rory Donnelly a tap in at the back post. It was a well worked goal and gave the Glens the lead their play deserved. On 71 minutes Jay Donnelly found brother Rory on the left. His cross into the danger area was met by Robbie McDaid but he headed straight at McCarey. Jay Donnelly then tried his luck from long range but his effort was just too high.
The home side began to throw everything forward looking for an equaliser but the Glentoran defence were magnificent. There was almost a chance for Cliftonville to level things up on 82 minutes when Kris Lowe fired a great cross into the box but Joe Crowe's superb defensive header cleared the danger. On 84 minutes Glentoran were forced to make their final substitution. Hrvoje Plum, who had earlier replaced Andrew Mitchell went down under a challenge and was unable to continue; Ciaran O'Connor coming on in his place.
It was O'Connor who was to kill the game off 4 minutes later with just 2 minutes of the 90 remaining. Jay Donnelly picked the ball up in the area and fired a low shot towards goal. Aaron McCarey saved with his legs but the ball looped into the air. As it came down around 16 yards from goal, Ciaran O'Connor got to it ahead of Liam Bagnall and his right-footed drive went past McCarey with perhaps a slight deflection off Garry Breen. There were 5 additional minutes added by referee Morrison but the back four and the excellent Gallagher and Bigirimana helped the Glens keep a clean sheet and move into second place in the table.
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: Brown, Marshall, Crowe, Marron, McClean (c), Gallagher, Bigirimana, McDonagh (McDaid 56), R. Donnelly, J. Donnelly & Mitchell (Plum 62 (O'Connor 84)).