On a weekend in which half the Dankse Bank Premiership fixtures fell victim to the wintry conditions Crusaders weathered an early Glentoran storm to fight back and win 4-2 at Seaview this afternoon. The Glens raced into a deserved 2-0 lead with a Curtis Allen double but were pegged back with two goals just before the interval and Crusaders then dominated from that point. Alan Kernaghan made three changes to the team that lost on New Year’s Day at Dungannon with Steven Gordon missing out through suspension while Jonathan Smith and Niall Henderson dropped to the bench. New arrival Chris Lavery made his Glentoran debut and was joined in the team by the returning Danny McKee and Ciaran Caldwell.
On a cold but dry afternoon the home side started brightly, working the first chance when Paul Heatley was given time and space to cross for Owens, his shot beat Aaron Hogg but Steven McCullough was on the goal line to prevent an early goal. Minutes later the first goal arrived at the other end; Barry Holland surged in from right back and his dipping swerving drive was palmed away by Sean O’Neill and Curtis Allen gleefully tucked the rebound into the corner to give the away side the lead. After some more Glentoran pressure the league leaders thought they had equalised when Colin Coates headed in from a free kick but the offside flag ensured the goal did not stand. The game then threatened to get out of hand during a bizarre period of play when the officials watched Marcus Kane get thrown to the ground three times whilst defending a soft free kick yet much to the annoyance of Glentoran players and supporters no action was taken. A series of soft free kicks did little to help the visiting supporters, many of whom were frustrated at the ease with which some of Crusaders' big physical players were going to ground.
After 15 minutes Glentoran seemed to settle and almost doubled their advantage when an errant backpass put Curtis Allen away down the wing, his cross was palmed to McKee but from an awkward height he could only hook over. The striker who spent the last three months at Ards went close again shortly after hitting a 25 yard volley over the crossbar as the visitors were visibly growing in confidence. The pressure was rewarded just a minute later when Curtis Allen was superbly played through and he calmly lobbed the bouncing ball over O’Neill who, despite getting a hand to it, couldn’t keep the shot out. In the opening 40 minutes Hogg had barely made a save and Glentoran looked impressive however the last 5 minutes of the half proved crucial in the outcome of the game. The Crusaders pressure began to build as they threw bodies forward and a half hearted claim for a penalty was waved away after Jordan Owens went down whilst holding Jay Magee’s shirt. Three minutes before the break the hosts were back in it. Heatley was tackled on the edge of the area and to much Glentoran anger a free kick was awarded. The set piece was superbly struck by Jordan Forsythe as he gave Hogg no chance, beating the Glens stopper low to his right. Perhaps if Glentoran had got to half time with the lead they would have got something from the game but Matthew Snoddy’s leveller felt like a crushing blow, just 60 seconds after Forsythe’s goal McKee and then McCullough didn’t clear the ball and Snoddy punished them, working the space to curl a low shot in from the edge of the area. A disappointing conclusion to a half in which Glentoran will have felt they merited their two goal lead. Half-time Crusaders 2-2 Glentoran.
It would have been easy for Crusaders to fold, coming off dropped points in their last two league games but they came roaring out after the break and dominated proceedings. Neither side really created many clear cut chances in the first 10 minutes with Heatley coming closest, his flick being saved easily by Hogg. Glentoran tried to regain the lead with a series of free kick routines which were clearly a product of recent training. However none of these really came to anything with a McKee volley bouncing harmlessly over the only real threat. The hammer blow came shortly after the hour mark, Billy Joe Burns was given far too much time and space and from 25 yards he smashed past Hogg to complete the Champions’ comeback. From then on the game became scrappier as Glentoran searched for an equaliser but in truth Crusaders looked the more likely to find the sixth goal, Curtis Allen and Josh Robinson having chances scrambled away at either end and Jordan Forsythe volleyed over with the best chance of the half. Forsythe was then at the centre of another pivotal moment, he was fouled midway into the Glentoran half and was then, whilst on the ground, struck with the ball by Ciaran Caldwell. Ian McNabb produced a second yellow card for Caldwell and reduced Glentoran to 10 men for the remaining 22 minutes. Two minutes later it was all over as Jordan Owens glanced a Burns cross into the net to make it 4-2. From this point the game petered out somewhat with Heatley coming closest, twice being denied by Aaron Hogg. The introduction of David Scullion, returning from a six week lay off, wasn’t enough to spark the East Belfast side as they were contained relatively easily for the remainder of the game. Full Time Crusaders 4-2 Glentoran.
A disappointing result which will need to be forgotten quickly as the Glens look to bounce back on Tuesday night, starting their defence of the Tennents Irish Cup in the re-arranged 5th round tie at home to Championship 1 leaders, Ards. Kick off at the Oval is at 7.45.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Glentoran: Aaron Hogg, Barry Holland, Jay Magee, Jonny Addis, Steven McCullough, Ciaran Caldwell, Marcus Kane, Fra McCaffrey (sub David Scullion 68), Chris Lavery, Danny McKee, Curtis Allen. Subs not used: Calum Birney, Conor McMenamin, Niall Henderson, Jonathan Smith.