Glentoran seized the opportunity to return to the top pf the Danske Bank Premiership in tonight's game, billed as the biggest Big Two game in a decade tonight. A second half Conor McMenamin goal after great work from Jay Donnelly gave the Glens a 1-0 win at the Bet McLean Oval this evening.
The Glens starting line-up had just one change from Tuesday night’s draw at Portadown, as skipper Marcus Kane, a decade long veteran of Big Two matches, was included. Patrick McClean held his place at centre back with his red card at Shamrock Park under appeal.
Both teams made a relatively tentative start in the high pressure atmosphere, with former Glens player Conor Pepper inexplicably escaping an early booking for what looked like an over robust check on Sean Murray. However the Glens gradually took control, giving the experienced Mulgrew and Shields in the Linfield midfield, little opportunity to influence the game.
The first meaningful goalmouth action came on 24 minutes when Blues’ keeper Chris Johns badly fumbled a Marcus Kane near post high cross, though he managed to bring it under control at the second attempt before Robbie McDaid could pounce. Five minutes later Hrvoje Plum – outstanding again in his new, more deep lying central midfield role. Won the ball and sent an excellent long range shot just wide of Johns’ post. This was closely followed by Robbie McDaid having a header from a Murray corner – won by the non-stop Conor McMenamin – well saved by Johns.
Next goalmouth action followed a game of pinball in the Blues’ penalty area, finished by a Murray effort hit just over the bar. Th3e Glens’ dominance in the half was demonstrated by the fact that Linfield’s first serious attempt at goal came on 43 minutes when Caolan Marron – selected as Man Of The Match by this evening’s match sponsor Upstream – cleared a Matthew Clarke effort from a Pepper cross.
Half Time: Glentoran 0-0 Linfield
The Glens started the second half brightly with a back to front move involving Marron, McDaid, Rhys Marshall, Clucas and McMenamin, followed immediately by a long range shot just wide from Paddy McClean. Then Marshall did superbly at the other end to stop Christy Manzinga getting a shot away for Linfield. Marcus Kane then received the first yellow card of the evening for a body check on his opposite number, Jamie Mulgrew. From the resulting corner Aaron McCarey saved well from Blues’ defender Sam Roscoe-Byrne.
For all the Glens’ dominance in other areas of the pitch, there was still limited real goalmouth action at either end until the 60th minute. But it was the decisive one. A magnificent long pass from Marron found Jay Donnelly out right just inside the Blues half. The striker held off the attentions of Roscoe-Byrne to get into the box where his shot was deflected to Conor McMenamin who had an easy task to score his fourth goal in five games since his return from suspension. The BBC TV commentary focused on Roscoe-Byrne’s defending, but this did a serious injustice to Donnelly’s skill and tenacity in holding off then beating his man.
Four minutes later Donnelly was p0ut through by McDaid and could have had a chance on goal had he not been blatantly held back by Roscoe-Byrne. However referee Raymond Crangle adjudged there was no foul. Immediately after this incident Conor Pepper was finally booked after a few very fortunate escapes.
The two teams continued to cancel each other out for the rest of the ninety minutes, but there was time for one piece of drama late in injury time when Aaron McCarey made what can only be described as a world class reflex save from an on-target Roscoe-Byrne header. A combination of McCarey and Paddy McClean cleared the rebound in what was the last incident of the game.
This richly deserved win puts the Glens back on top, three points ahead of Linfield with eleven games to play. Cliftonville -, seven points behind, entertain sixth placed Coleraine tomorrow for their game in hand. Next up for the Glens is a visit to Inver Park on F5riday next to face fourth placed Larne. Tickets for that one will be in high demand.
Full Time: Glentoran 1-0 Linfield
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: McCarey, Marshall, Kane (c) (Burns 66), Marron, McClean (c), Murray, Plum, Clucas, McMenamin (Cushnie 84), J. Donnelly (M O'Connor 72) & McDaid