Glentoran closed out the NIFL Premiership season with a 1-0 defeat at home to Crusaders today at The Oval. Alan Kernaghan made three changes to the side that lost to Glenavon a week ago bringing in Jonny Smith, Barry Holland and Jonny Addis with Steven Gordon, David Scullion and Chris Morrow dropping out. Crusaders arrived in East Belfast with a much rotated squad having already clinched the Premiership title with two games to spare.
The visiting champions started the brighter, within 90 seconds Declan Caddell did well to beat McCullough in the corner but threaded the needle with his cross, missing all the players in the middle. Diarmuid O’Carroll also went close early but Elliot Morris wasn’t threatened in the Glentoran goal. The Glens grew into the game and strung together a couple of neat moves, first Chris Lavery was denied by Crusaders keeper McKibben. Ten minutes in Glentoran came close twice in 60 seconds, Jonny Smith was fouled out on the left wing and his whipped free kick was so nearly flicked in by Kym Nelson, from that attack the ball was never cleared and Birney flicked a header on for Curtis Allen who forced a super reflex save from McKibben with the Crusaders backline shouting for a flag that never came.
Following that frantic start the game settled down until a half-hearted Glentoran penalty appeal, Colin Coates clattered into Jonny Smith but Mr Hetherington adjudged the Crusaders captain to have won the ball. The home fans were then angered as Coates felt the need to unnecessarily drag Smith to his feet by the collar, escaping a booking. It was all Glentoran at this point and once again the home side missed two chances to score, seconds apart. From a Chris Lavery corner Calum Birney climbed highest and headed onto the crossbar, the rebound dropped between Marcus Kane and Curtis Allen and as it bounced up Kane emulated Birney and headed against the bar, this time with McKibben struggling.
Crusaders hadn’t registered a meaningful shot on target in the first half an hour but on 31 minutes they nearly found the opening goal. A neat move from Caddell, Holden and O’Carroll ended with the striker spinning on the edge of the box and firing a powerful drive towards the bottom corner but Morris did brilliantly to parry. Down the other end Glentoran won a free kick 30 yards out and Smith stepped up; curling the ball agonisingly wide of the post. Smith however inadvertently prevented Glentoran’s next chance as he jumped to meet Lavery’s cross however, unknown to him, Barry Holland was steaming in behind and was perhaps the better placed as the two players collided whilst jumping for the header. Halftime Glentoran 0-0 Crusaders.
The second half developed a feel of an end of season game as the pace slowed and much of the play occurred in the middle third. It was however lit up by one moment of excellence which decided the game. Coates picked the ball up in his own half and smashed a 60 yard pass straight into the path of winger Ross Holden, he cut inside the Glentoran penalty area and drove his finish across Morris and into the net. Glentoran almost replied immediately as Kym Nelson unlocked the midfield with a quick backheel to Lavery, he found McCullough whose cross was almost met by the arriving Nelson who could have complete a superb move.
After a quiet spell Crusaders sparked the game into life again and really should have doubled their lead, Carvill lobbed the ball over Addis for the speedy Holden but the young winger shot into Morris’ body when a simple pass to the unmarked Snoddy would have surely yielded a second goal. Holden came close again shortly after with a header but couldn’t find his second goal. Glentoran’s youth then shone through with Patrick Cafolla winning a series of corners through hard work and hassling of the Crusaders defenders. In addition to this Cieran Clougherty and Caolan Boyd Munce made their debuts in the second half, more evidence of Glentoran’s excellent Academy.
In the remaining time Chris Lavery wasted a good chance, blazing a 15 yard volley over and Marcus Kane almost headed an Addis long throw past McKibben but it wasn’t to be for Glentoran, Crusaders finished the stronger with both Forsythe and O’Carroll forcing further good saves out of Elliot Morris. Full Time Glentoran 0-1 Crusaders
A disappointing result which was harsh on the Glens but all roads now lead to Coleraine for the semi-final of the new Europa League playoffs. The clash at Ballycastle Road on Friday night will decide who faces Cliftonville at Solitude for that lucrative European place.
Glentoran: Morris, Holland, Birney, Magee (sub Cafolla 51), McCullough, Kane, Addis, Nelson, Lavery (sub Clougherty 72), Smith, Allen (sub Boyd Munce 78). Subs not used: Hogg, Patton.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell