Danny McKee provided a Christmas cracker that we'll all enjoy for years to come as Glentoran defeated current champions Cliftonville at a chilly Oval on Saturday afternoon. Manager Eddie Patterson - up against his old employers - kept faith with the same team who had secured full points from both Ballinamallard and Dungannon Swifts in the last two weeks whilst the Reds boasted inform Jay Donnelly - younger brother of Swansea City striker Rory - and Ulster Footballer of the Year Joe Gormley.
Whilst Cliftonville have won both of the last two Danske Bank Premierships and League Cups, their record at the Oval has been a dark stain on an otherwise excellent record in recent years. The Solitude side have not won since August 2011 in east Belfast with a Ryan Catney rocket in stoppage time that day sending the North Belfast side home with the spoils. Saturday though proved to be a flip of that result as this time the home side managed to conjure up a last minute winner of their own.
Just five minutes after kick-off Glentoran could've and probably should've went in front. A perfectly weighted Niall Henderson ball over the top found Jordan Stewart but the youngsters pass to Curtis Allen found Conor Devlin instead with the goal gaping. Unfortunately for the home support things got worse before they got better as on 11 minutes a superb Gormley pass to David McDaid sent the latter clean through and he expertly dispatched it into the far corner. Barely a minute after kick-off had passed when Donnelly's fizzing effort had Morris scrambling and happy to see it whistle past the upright.
It took about 15 minutes for the Glens to get a foothold in the game with the first indication of the early momentum swinging coming when Marcus Kane volleyed over from a tight angle after a corner. However on 24 minutes it was all square as Stevie McCullough's high ball eventually made it's way to David Scullion with the ex-Coleraine winger volleying over Devlin from outside the box courtesy of a helpful deflection. Immediately after the goal Stevie Gordon was left frustrated after apparently being hit by a Cliftonville defender however despite clear evidence that something had happened the referee couldn't give anything as none of the officials had seen the incident.
After half an hour McDaid burst through after cleverly beating Jonny Addis on the half-way line and - under pressure from Scullion (who had tracked back about 50 yards in pursuit) - forced a decent save from Morris. A minute later and more drama occured when a late, reckless challenge from Kane on Tomas Cosgrove caused a bit of a scuffle. Kane lunged in and was perhaps shown only a yellow card by not really connecting with Cosgrove. The Cliftonville full-back however reacted angrily and appeared to headbutt Kane - with the referee brandishing only a caution to the anger of the Glentoran supporters.
With just five minutes of the half left Gordon burst through the Reds midfield and reversed the ball brilliantly to Curtis Allen but the number nine's shot was saved well by Devlin, and at the other end on the stroke of half time McDaid was afforded a free-kick 20 yards from goal that was pushed past the post by Morris.
It had been an exciting and open half with plenty of attacking impetus from both sides and the second half started as the first had ended. McDaid found time and space in the box however shot wide when well placed, before 8 minutes later firing a strike from a similar position over the bar to the frustration of the travelling support. On 54 minutes Scullion found Kane in the box and the midfielder's header looked to have wrong-footed Devlin only for the ex-Manchester United player to make an excellent reaction save.
A minute later and Marty Donnelly danced through the Glens' defence only for an excellent tackle from Gordon to force him wide and a goal-line clearance from McCullough to thwart him. Not to be outdone, on the next attack Jonny Addis produced an even better block from McDaid after intelligently reading the game and stopping the ex-Bannsider from pulling the trigger with the goal at his mercy. In a period of extended Cliftonville pressure, Jay Donnelly did manage to get the ball into the net after 61 minutes but it was correctly ruled out for offside.
With 67 minutes on the clock Ryan Catney chased Henderson down to the byline and clearly threw a punch that connected with the Glentoran number fourteen's face however again it was not properly punished by the referee. Headers by Kane (72) and Gordon (75) didn't trouble Devlin before Jordan Stewart's volley five minutes from time took a deflection off Catney and, with Devlin beaten, drifted wide of the upright by a hair.
It appeared as though Glentoran would have to settle from a point in what was a fairly even and entertaining affair but substitute Danny McKee had other ideas. As the game entered stoppage time a Cliftonville attack came to nothing and Morris launched the ball downfield where a costly slip by Cosgrove allowed the big forward to race goalwards and - with the approaching Devlin way off his line - gently lofted the ball over the 'keeper and into the net to cue absolute pandemonium on the Sydenham Terrace who saw the last few seconds out with a superb rendition of Bless 'Em All.
A great game, brilliant performance and fantastic result for the Glens then who head into Christmas off the back of three consecutive victories. Next up is a trip to Windsor Park for the big Boxing Day derby. The game is, as usual, all ticket with prices set at £10 for adults and £7 for concessions. Glentoran fans will, like the previous match in south Belfast, be housed in the Kop for this fixture. With no Boxing Day victory at Windsor Park since 1972 and only 2 wins since 1989. Records are made to be broken.
Highlights on BBC Sport NI HERE
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Glentoran: Morris (capt), Holland, McCullough, Addis, Garrett, Henderson, Gordon, Scullion, Kane, Stewart & Allen.
Subs: McAlorum for McCullough and McKee for Garrett.
Match ball sponsors for today's game - 1st East Belfast GSC