Glentoran are still very much in this tie despite having to come from behind at the Oval this evening in our first game in the 2021-22 Europa Conference League.
Missing a few regulars, manager Mick McDermott was forced to make a few changes to the starting XI but it didn't show in the early stages as the Glens made a fast and aggressive start.
With 5 minutes on the clock we had our first opportunity of the evening when Rhys Marshall found Conor McMenamin in the area. McMenamin's low drive from a narrow angle was well saved by visiting keeper, Paul Harrison.
Adrian Cieslewicz fired well over on 8 minutes before the visitors took the lead on 13. Leo Smith picked up the ball well outside the penalty area but managed to go past 3 or 4 Glentoran players before slotting calmly past Dayle Coleing.
It was one of those goals that had your team scored it, you'd be ecstatic but when it's the opposition, you feel it could and should have been prevented. On the quarter hour mark the Glens won a corner and skipper, Marcus Kane was unfortunate to see his header deflected over the bar. Kane then picked up a soft yellow card for a challenge on Cieslewicz before Mal Smith came close at the other end, his shot being deflected wide of the post. We then had a 15 minute spell where Glentoran controlled the majority of the ball with The New Saints looking dangerous on the occasional break.
10 minutes from the interval Cieslewicz was perhaps fortunate only to receive a yellow card following a reckless challenge on Conor McMenamin. Right on halftime the Glens should have been level. Gael Bigirimana's shot was blocked but deflected kindly into the path of Robbie McDaid. Glentoran's number 11, scorer of both our goals in last season's European campaign, looked to have levelled the tie up but the cheers of the almost 1000 home supporters were cut short at the ball flashed inches wide of the post.
Halftime: Glentoran 0-1 The New Saints
The start of the second half was slower than the first; both teams wary of conceding the next goal. Glentoran got stronger as the half progressed though and following a free kick to the home side on 53 minutes, Bigirimana and McMenamin linked well before the cross into the area was headed just over by Rhys Marshall. McMenamin came close a minute later after driving into the box and driving a low cross-shot which was well intercepted by visiting keeper, Harrison.
A 30 yard curling effort from Declan McManus didn't trouble Dayle Coleing (55) and then a Robbie McDaid shot went straight at the Saints keeper. Cieslewicz brought a decent save out of Coleing on the hour mark but with The New Saints content to sit on their single goal advantage, Glentoran were finding it increasingly difficult to fashion many real goal scoring opportunities. With 17 minutes of the 90 remaining, Mick McDermott introduced Jamie McDonagh and Andrew Mitchell for Rory Donnelly and the very impressive Mal Smith.
Mitchell almost made an instant impact, meeting a McMenamin corner with his head but directing his effort straight at Harrison. As we approached the final 10 minutes the Glens kept putting the pressure on but the ball just wouldn't break for anyone in the box. Then on 81 minutes a left wing cross from Marcus Kane saw the Saints left sided defender hesitate and Jamie McDonagh nipped in only to see the keeper turn his shot away.
We kept pressing and eventually with just 8 minutes remaining, got a well deserved equaliser. Robbie McDaid did really well to pressurise Ryan Astles. The defender failed to clear the ball and McDaid fed Jamie McDonagh. McDonagh's first touch gave the Saints keeper an opportunity to intercept but he failed to take the ball cleanly and it fell for McDonagh who planted it into the Sydenham End goal to make it 1-1. Jamie McDonagh's spectacular goal against Cliftonville, his only one for the club before tonight, won the 'Goal f the Season' award at the Oval last term. This one was nowhere near as good but could prove to be much more valuable!
Glentoran were very much in the ascendancy in the closing minutes and forced a succession of corners. From one of them Rhys Marshall headed inches wide. With Marron, McCullough and McClean standing strong at the back the visitors didn't really have any further chances. Glentoran did have one final set piece with 30 seconds of the 4 additional minutes remaining. Gael Bigirimana played the ball into the box but as it was headed out, Cypriot referee Loukas Sotiriou blew for full time. So it's all to play for in a weeks time.
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Full-time: Glentoran 1-1 The New Saints
Glentoran: Coleing, Marron, McCullough, McClean, Kane (c), Bigirimana, Smith (McDonagh 73), Marshall, Donnelly (Mitchell 73), McMenamin & McDaid.
Unused subs: Morris, Glendinning, McCarthy, Cushnie & Wightman.