An event packed 120 minutes but an ultimately devastating result for Glentoran as a tie dominated by penalty kicks was ultimately settled by them as the Glens failed to progress in the Europa Conference League.
Warren Feeney made two changes from the away leg. Fuad Sule had his first start with Aaron Wightman on the bench while as a result of Shay McCartan failing a fitness test this afternoon, Rory Donnelly started in his place.
The match started almost identically to the first leg with Glentoran on the offensive, both Junior and Burns having decent efforts in the first seven minutes. The similarities continued on sixteen minutes with Glentoran awarded a penalty when Niall McGinn was fouled following good work from Daire O’Connor and Junior. But as with last week the chance to take an early lead was spurned through a poor kick, this time from Bobby Burns who shot wide right of the Gzira net.
Following the penalty the game evened out more in terms of possession but neither side creating any meaningful chances, but towards the end of the half the Glens stepped up a gear. First Rory Donnelly had a decent shot saved after he was put through by Junior. Sule and McGinn also had attempts saved as the half ended scoreless.
Half Time: Glentoran 0-0 Gzira
Aaron McCarey was called on to make his first save of the night two minutes after the break as a Gzira forward broke and got his shot away. That was a portent of what was to come as we entered a period of plenty of Glens possession but no success in the final third in breaking down a packed and well organised Gzira defence.
What was effectively the pivotal moment of the tie came on 66 minutes and was a carbon copy of Gzira’s second goal last week. A Glentoran forward lost possession in a robust challenge well up the Gzira end, but again a Gzira player was able to easily break and score, again the scorer was a Brazilian, this time the left winger Macula.
Warren Feeney immediately introduced Jay Donnelly for McGinn alongside Junior and the number 9 had a positive impact on the team. Straight away Aidan Wilson had a header just over the bar then Rory Donnelly headed down for Junior, whose shot was saved. That was the last action for Junior who was replaced by Rhys Walsh, recently turned 17, who has had an outstanding pre-season.
Not surprisingly the fourth official signalled eight minutes of injury time due to the theatrics of the Gzira players and it was an eventful period. First Aidan Wilson had a good header saved then the Glens celebrated an equaliser through James Singleton. But after signalling the goal the referee went to his linesman – who apparently hadn’t raised his flag – and after a lengthy discussion between the two officials surrounded by Gzira players, the goal was disallowed for offside. This resulted in a melee between players and coaches that resulted in a red card for the Gzira manager and another four minutes of injury time.
It was in the last of these minutes that Bobby Burns went from villain to hero as the 22/23 Glens Player Of The Year stabbed home an equaliser with the very last touch of the game.
After 90 minutes: Glentoran 1-1 Gzira
Six minutes into injury time young Glens winger Leon Boyd was introduced for his competitive debut in place of Daire O’Connor. Boyd – another 17-year-old – had an immediate positive impact as first he did great work to find Rory Donnelly in the Gzira box but the forward skied his shot. Then Walsh hit a great effort against the crossbar but the rebound was again hit over the bar.
The final meaningful Glentoran chance brought a wonder save from the Gzira keeper from a goalbound Aidan Wilson header.
After 120 minutes: Glentoran 1-1 Gzira
So on to penalties, and the longest shoot out most people in the Bet McLean Oval will have seen. All 22 players scored their first round of efforts and with the scores at 13-13 it was the unfortunate Leon Boyd – who had bravely gone third, ahead of many more experienced team mates and convincingly scored his first - who had his penalty saved. His team mates gathered around to support the debutant who had done so much to make a positive impression in his first competitive game,
So the Glens are now out of Europe in the most disappointing manner and miss out on what should have been a potentially winnable tie against a Luxembourg side. A disappointing blow for a capacity Glens crowd that provided fantastic support all night. But with the Sports Direct Premiership starting in a fortnight the manager and coaching team will be looking to get them over this blow as quickly as possible.
After Penalties: Glentoran 13-14 Gzira
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: McCarey, Marshall, Singleton, McCullough (c), Wilson, Sule, Burns, McGinn (J Donnelly 69) , O’Connor (Boyd 97), R. Donnelly (Jenkins 110), & Junior (Walsh 79)
Subs (Not used): Webber, L.Donnelly, Kane, Kelly, Wightman, Russell, Locke, Smyth