Just three days on from edging Glenavon at Mourneview Park in the league, Glentoran returned to mid-Ulster for a last sixteen League Cup encounter. Both sides rang several changes from Saturday's match and what was to follow was probably the best Glens performance of the season thus far as a Fra McCaffrey hat-trick, Curtis Allen free-kick and Jordan Stewart finish saw the east Belfast outfit run out 5-1 winners against the ten man Lurgan Blues.
Glenavon kicked off as Northern Irish footballing history was made with the two officials behind each goal being trialed across all matches in the round, with the tests continuing up until the final as the NIFL look to address some of the scrutiny that their referees have come under in recent times. Straight away and Glenavon forced a corner, which led to a goalmouth scramble before Glentoran eventually cleared. But five minutes in the away side came so close to taking the lead as a Steven Gordon lob from just outside the area had James McGrath scrambling only to see the effort dip and rebound off the bar.
But the Glens supporters didn't have long to wait as just a minute later Gordon was brought down on the edge of the box and Allen stepped up to slam the resulting free kick into the bottom corner, giving McGrath no chance. On ten minutes the Glens probably should have extended their lead as Gordon was found five yards out but could only direct his volley straight at the 'keeper. Two minutes later and again Glentoran hit the woodwork with a curling twenty yard Stephen McAlorum free-kick slamming the upright and bouncing away to safety.
It really had been something of a siege on the Glenavon goal in the first fifteen minutes but Andy Kilmartin gave the away side something to think about with a 20-yard drive that skimmed Morris's bar with the Glens' captain well beaten. Indeed, it looked as though those early misses might come back to haunt Eddie Patterson's side as a scrappy goalmouth scramble saw the ball hit the bar, then get blocked by a mixture of bodies and eventually forced over the line by Conor Dillon on sixteen minutes.
Half an hour in and Kym Nelson limped off with a hamstring injury with Niall Henderson replacing the big midfielder. On thirty minutes Hamilton ran through on goal and Morris managed to get a hand to it, and that seemed to be the wake-up call that Glentoran needed as with seven minutes remaining in the half Dillon went from hero to zero as he handled in his own box before Allen slid the loose ball home, only to have it pulled back for a Glentoran penalty with Dillon sent for an early bath. McCaffrey stepped up and coolly placed it into the top corner for his first goal of the night.
After an exhilirating opening forty-five, the Glens extended their lead just seven minutes into the second half with an absolutely wonderful individual effort from McCaffrey. A hopeful ball into the box was cleared to the magical midfielder and the ex-Hull City man brought it down fifty yards from goal, majestically gliding past two Glenavon defenders before accelerating towards the goal, cutting inside and sweeping a stunning finish into the bottom corner. 3-1 and it appeared to be game over.
But on sixty one minutes Morris was again called into action as Kevin Braniff brought a last-ditch save out of the Glens' 'keeper, before Jim O'Hanlon was brought down on the edge of the area only for Allen to place the free-kick straight into McGrath's arms. Seventy nine minutes in and it should have been four as the ball made its way out to substitute Jordan Stewart out on the wing who completely sold James Singleton before blasting his effort way over the bar.
However Stewart did get his goal soon after as he raced through on goal before rounding McGrath and slotting it into the empty net. It really was becoming truly exceptional but the icing on the cake would be a McCaffrey hat-trick because the number four had been the source of everything good that Glentoran did. Kris Lindsay denied the midfielder in the 82nd minute with a last ditch block but just a few minutes later Stewart's cross reached the far post and McCaffrey headed home from an acute angle. It was almost six as in the last minute Gordon found his way into the box but his flicked effort was stopped by McGrath.
A brilliant performance then from Glentoran and one that hopefully heated the four hundred odd Glenmen that made the trip in cold conditions. Next up is a home game against Crusaders on Saturday and this is a 2PM KICK OFF due to the Northern Ireland match that evening.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Highlights on BBC Sport NI HERE
Glentoran: Morris (capt), Holland, McCullough, Addis, Garrett, McAlorum, Nelson, Gordon, O'Hanlon, McCaffrey & Allen.
Subs: Henderson for Nelson, McKee for Allen and Stewart for O'Hanlon.