An early goal from David Scullion gave Glentoran third consecutive victory to close the gap on Coleraine. Despite Saturday’s win at Carrick there were a couple of changes to the starting XI, Stephen Rice and Jonathan Smith returning in place of Chris Morrow and Fra McCaffrey.
The Glens got off to the best possible start with a goal with fewer than three minutes on the clock. Captain Marcus Kane burst forward and released Curtis Allen on the left. The in-form striker drove the ball low across the six yard box, it was missed by goalkeeper and defenders but Scullion was lurking at the far post to blast the ball into the gaping net. The Glens almost had a second after 16 minutes when a Scullion corner was fumbled by Coleraine ‘keeper Chris Johns, almost allowing Allen to pounce. Soon afterwards the visitors created their first clear cut chance when Jamie McGonigle should have done better with a free header from 8 yards.
Midway through the first half the Glens were dealt a blow when defender Barry Holland was forced to retire injured to be replaced by Kristian Gibson. This seemed to disrupt the home side’s rhythm and Gibson was quickly pressed into action by the Bannsiders, doing well to block a Darren McCauley shot after a neat turn and clearing a header from the same player after a great Ruairi Harkin cross. Coleraine continued to press with James McLaughlin forcing Elliott Morris to beat away a shot from 20 yards and Ian Parkhill pulling a good chance wide of the post. It wasn’t until just before half time that Glentoran posed any further threat as Jonathan Smith’s curling effort from just inside the box brought a good save from Johns and the same player had half-hearted appeals for a penalty turned down when he clashed with Howard Beverland in stoppage time.
There was little action at either end at the start of the second period but Coleraine should really have grabbed an equaliser after 59 minutes. Breaking away with men over after a rare Glentoran attack, McGonigle brought an excellent save from Morris and Harkin mis-hit the rebound badly wide when he should really have hit the target. Six minutes later he did find the target, but his header from a left wing corner was inadvertently blocked by McCauley who turned and fired into the net but the referee ruled that the ball had struck his arm.
The Glens were struggling to get out of their own half at this point with the majority of passes going astray and Johns a virtual spectator. However the defence were holding firm and soaking up anything that Coleraine could throw their way, an Adam Mullan strike from long range the closest they came until the final minutes.
The home fans were anxious to hear the final whistle and their hearts were in their mouths as Coleraine won a free kick just outside the box with just a minute of the ninety left. Ogilby struck the ball low and hard through the wall and Morris did superbly well to not only get down to it, but to not let it squirm out of his grasp and give the chance of a rebound as the rain lashed down. There was to be more nail biting in the stands as in the second minute of stoppage time another free kick was swung in by Ruaidhri Higgins from the corner of the box, but there was an almost audible sigh of relief as a header was flicked wide of the post and the referee’s whistle sounded soon afterwards.
Perhaps a fortunate victory but a vital one as the gap between the Glens and Coleraine is now just six points and we have the chance to reduce that to three as we travel to the Showgrounds for the return fixture on 9th April.
Elliott Morris, Barry Holland (sub Kristian Gibson 21 mins), Jay Magee, Jonny Addis, Marcus Kane, David Scullion, Stephen Rice, Ciaran Caldwell (sub Chris Morrow 69 mins), Steven McCullough (sub Fra McCaffrey 79 mins), Jonathan Smith, Curtis Allen
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.