A last gasp goal from Jay Donnelly won the 3 points for the Glens in this afternoon's Danske Bank Premiership game at the Oval. The result sees the team close to within 2 points of second placed Coleraine (who lost at Solitude today) and extended the lead over 4th placed Larne to 3 points. Crusaders drop into the bottom 6.
Glentoran showed plenty of their neat passing and possession football in the early stages and created an early chance for Hrvoje Plum who forced a save out of Sean O'Neill. There was a bit of hesitancy in the Glens defence on 5 minutes and the ball broke kindly for Heatly but he was closed down by Marcus Kane and Rory Brown was able to gather tha ball. Both sides were trading blows in the early stages. A wicked cross from Jay Donnelly fizzed across the City End goalmouth but nobody was able to get a touch on it. At the other end a speculative 30-yard effort from Jamie McGonigle alomst caught out Rory Brown but the ball went narrowly wide of the upright.
Just before the quarter hour mark a forward pass put Marcus Kane clear. He drove to the edge of the area but was crudely taken down by Ross Clarke as he put his cross into the danger area. Referee, Boyce awarded a free kick which Hrvoje Plum stepped up to take. Plum's strike was powerful but just too high. A Crusaders free kick was well cleared by Rhys Marshall and the Glens broke forward, Jay Donnelly finding Hrvoje Plum who forced a corner. Plum took the corner from the left, hitting a ball to the back post where Marcus Kane met it but headed just over. On 31 minutes Rory Donnelly and Sean O'Neill raced for a ball on the edge of the box. It was hacked clear to Jamie McDonagh but referee Boyce decided to award the visitors a free kick before McDonagh could capitalise. The last real chance of the first half fell to Jay Donnelly. He drilled the ball goalwards from a tight angle, forcing a decent save from O'Neill before BJ Burns turned the ball behind.
Halftime: Glentoran 0-0 Crusaders
Crusaders made a much brighter start to the second period and might have edged in front on 46 minutes following some indecisive play in the Glentoran defense. Philip Lowry looked to have given the North Belfast outfit the lead but a goal line clearance from Paddy McClean denied him. On 55 minutes a run and cross from Jamie McDonagh on the right cause confusion in the visitors' penalty area, both the goalkeeper and defender challenging for the same ball. There was a half chance for Rory Donnelly at the back post but he couldn't force the ball home. On 65 minutes McDonagh created a shooting opportunity for Hrvoje Plum but he drove his shot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
Jamie McDonagh was then replaced by Dale Gorman who seemed to be hit from behind in his first challenge for the ball in the middle of the field. Glentoran swept forward though and an excellent cross from Rory Donnelly was met by Jay but he just couldn't keep his header down! Gorman's injury though meant he couldn't continue and just 3 minutes after joining the game he was forced off; Seanan Clucas replacing the unfortunate number 8. 15 minutes from time Seanan Clucas played a great ball to Rhys Marshall on the right.Marshall got the better of O'Rourke before returning the ball to Clucas who saw his shot deflect wide for yet another corner. Jay Donnelly got on the end of the corner but headed over the bar. Moments later Rhys Marshall put another fantastic cross into the goal mouth but nobody was able to get on the end of it.
Crusaders introduced both Jordan Owens and Adam Lecky in the closing stages and returned to the long ball option. They had a couple of opportunities when Hrvoje Plum was blocked from getting the ball by Heatly but referee Boyce decided it was the visiting team that should have the free kick in what was a dangerous position. The Glentoran defense cleared the free kick and the subsequent corner. Andrew Mitchell was brought on for Hrvoje Plum late on and it was he who had the assist for Jay Donnelly's winning goal. Mitchell picked up the ball just inside the Crusaders half before clipping it forward for Donnelly to run on to. Jay burst between the two central defenders and calmly lifted the ball over the out-rushing Sean O'Neill and into the unguarded goal. It was just a pity that the faithful Glentoran support who normally occupy the Sydenham End for the second half, wearn't there to witness it.
Glentoran were forced to defend their lead in stoppage time, Rory Brown doing well to punch clear under significant pressure in the 92nd minute. In what was the final action of the game there was a great chance for Philip Lowry to equalise from close range however his header went over the bar. Lowry was possibly distracted by Luke McCullough (who may even have got a slight touch on the ball) but the main thing was that the home goal remained unbreached. So another 3 points from a hard working and committed Glentoran side. Caolan Marron had an excellent game and by in large kept Paul Heatly quiet whilst once again Gael Bigirimana was excellent in the defensive midfield role. Next up is a trip to Solitude on Tuesday evening.
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: Brown, Marron, Kane (c), McCullough, McClean, Bigirimana, Plum (Mitchell 85), Marshall, McDonagh (Gorman 65 then replaced by Clucas 68), R. Donnelly & J. Donnelly.