A tremendous second half performance from Glentoran almost saw Eddie Patterson’s men overcome a two goal half time deficit in a rip-roaring game at the Oval this afternoon. The Glens were without the suspended Willie Garrett who was replaced by Calum Birney while Marcus Kane returned from suspension in place of Steven McCullough.
There was little to choose between the sides in the opening exchanges, although the visitors had the clearer openings with a Gavin Whyte shot sailing over the bar and the same player bringing a great block from Birney along with some half hearted penalty appeals for handball. On 17 minutes Crusaders took the lead with the simplest of goals. Former Glentoran midfielder Richard Clarke sent a long ball onto the head of Jordan Owens on the penalty spot, he nodded down to the unmarked Timmy Adamson on the edge of the box and the Crusaders number nine drove the hard and low past Elliott Morris.
Midway through the half a spell of “handbags” involving a dozen players after a foul by Colin Coates surprisingly brought no cards from referee Raymond Crangle but seemed to spur the Glens into life as they began to create chances. Some great work from Jordan Stewart conjured up an opening for Danny McKee but he poked the ball tamely wide and David Scullion should have provided a greater test for Crues ‘keeper Sean O’Neill when he volleyed from the edge of the box. More Stewart trickery brought a desperate clearance from a Crusaders defender as he flashed the ball across the six yard box and Barry Holland fired just over the bar from long range. As half time approached Billy Joe Burns headed just over from a Nathan Hanley cross and at the other end a neat turn and shot from Stephen McAlorum brought a great save from O’Neill.
The Glens would have been going into the break full of confidence with just a one goal deficit and their tails up, but in stoppage time were hit with a killer blow. Once again Clarke was the provider, swinging a vicious cross in towards Paul Heatley as he made a run across the box. The winger got in his shot on the turn and the ball deflected off Birney’s attempted block to leave Morris wrong footed and give the Crues a two goal half time lead.
Six minutes into the second half and it was almost all over for the Glens. A Heatley cross from the left seemed to deceive Morris but the Glentoran skipper just got a fingertip to the ball to deflect it onto the crossbar. A couple of minutes later the Glens were right back in it. A long clearance from Morris sailed over the heads of the visiting defenders but Stewart anticipated the flight of the ball and bore down on goal. The little winger had plenty of time to think but calmly picked his spot, sliding the ball past O’Neill for his fourteenth of the season.
The Glens had the fillip that they needed and started to put more and more pressure on an increasingly panicky Crusaders defence. A well struck McKee shot from 18 yards was straight at O’Neill, a spectacular long range effort from Stewart sailed narrowly wide and a flicked header through a ruck of players by Calum Birney from a Jonny Addis throw somehow failed to cross the line. The visitors seemed content to settle for what they had, at times pulling all eleven men behind the ball and manager Stephen Baxter signalled their intent by taking off speedy teenage winger Whyte and replacing him with new signing Barry Molloy as a holding player in midfield. The Glens continued to apply pressure but were right out of luck, particularly when McKee’s delicate chip from the edge of the box clipped the crossbar with fifteen minutes left.
As the Glens pushed forward there was always the danger of a Crusaders break and on 81 minutes Heatley ran clear with the Glens appealing in vain for offside. Just as the winger looked as though he would restore the visitors’ two goal lead man of the match Stewart got back brilliantly to block and snuff out the danger. Soon afterwards Jordan Owens also had the chance to make things safe for his team from close range but this time it was Marcus Kane who produced the heroics to block.
As the clock ticked towards full time the Glens threw everything they could into the Crusaders area but their defence stood firm until referee Crangle signalled the end of the game. Despite the defeat and the end of the recent run of good results players, coaches and supporters can take more than a little consolation from a tremendous team performance that only lacked a little luck. Once again this young side has shown that it can be more than a match for anyone and can look forward with confidence to their visit to Solitude to take on champions Cliftonville in a fortnight’s time.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell
Highlights on BBC Sport NI HERE
Elliott Morris, Barry Holland, Calum Birney (sub Curtis Allen 82 mins), Jonny Addis, Marcus Kane, David Scullion, Stephen McAlorum, Steven Gordon, Niall Henderson, Jordan Stewart (sub Fra McCaffrey 88 mins), Danny McKee