Glentoran will be glad to see the back of Glenavon for a few weeks after another tough result to take over the Lurgan Blues this afternoon at The Oval. Following a row over Gary Hamilton's eligibility for the last meeting between the sides at The Oval which stretched on into the New Year, the rejection of Glentoran's appeal left a sour taste in particular with both teams being so tight in the table. Today added to Glentoran's woes with not only Glenavon, but Hamilton himself striking a 91st minute winner to send Glenavon supporters into wild celebrations and leaving Glentoran shattered.
It must be said that the game was an excellent spectacle for Northern Irish football with an end to end battle that either side could have won. Glentoran named an unchanged side from that which beat Ballymena on Tuesday night and started brightly with David Scullion and Curtis Allen both moving well up front and getting in behind the Glenavon backline. Allen twice got through early on only for Glenavon to block his efforts on both occasions. Scullion then broke free on the 10th minute only for his left foot shot to sail harmlessly wide of Alan Blayney's far post. Against the run of play Glentoran went behind on the 16th minute through a simple cross into the box which won't please Glentoran boss Eddie Patterson. A free kick from Kevin Braniff 45 yards out was chipped into the middle and James Singleton beat Steven McCullough in the air and nodded into the far corner. Elliott Morris was left wrong footed and helpless as the ball nestled in the corner.
Singleton's goal seemed to kill the early pressure in the game as Glentoran struggled to seize back the initiative they had in the early stages. David Scullion was providing an outlet but Curtis Allen and Jordan Stewart were being very well managed and restricting Glentoran chances. Allen again got through but his indecision to strike early meant Glenavon could retreat and block the chance. Again, Glentoran's number 9 got free of the Glenavon defence but this time Blayney was out quick to win the ball.
James Singleton then had a great chance to put the visitors two ahead but his header from a corner was headed off the line by McCullough. Glenavon started to push and Glentoran were happy to see the half-time whistle soon after.
The second half was a different affair from both teams. The game was end to end with feisty tackles lots of counter attacking and drama. In a role reversal of the first half, Glenavon started brightly with a couple crosses into Glentoran's box but the Glens snatched the equaliser with an excellently worked goal. Jordan Stewart carried the ball from his own half, twisting through a number of tackles before coming away with the ball and switching to David Scullion on the edge of the box. Scullion danced into the area and cut the ball back to the reliably placed Steven Gordon to tuck away his 6th goal of the season.
Gordon's goal kicked the game into life and Gordon himself had another good opportunity when he beat his man on the edge of the box, set himself, but fired powerfully into Blayney's gloves. Stephen McAlorum grew in the game breaking down Glenavon play whilst getting forward and offering a creative threat too. Scullion continued his form from the first half but fired harmlessly over from 25 yards on 65th minute.
Glenavon then changed their shape with player-manager Gary Hamilton entered the field for Ciaran Caldwell. Niall Henderson tried an audacious attempt from the edge of the box on the left foot volley but fired over. Both sides had numerous corners and there was certainly a feel that somebody was going to grab a winner.
The winner by Gary Hamilton in stoppage time started with a harmless free-kick in the centre circle. Hamilton chipped the ball into box where Glentoran struggled to clear. Hamilton followed up and picked up the ball on the edge of the box and smashed low. The ball deflected and once again Morris was wrong footed. There seemed an age for the inevitable to happen as the ball crept into the corner sending Glenavon home with the three points.
Not Glentoran's best display amongst a lot of positives in the last few weeks but the club are still positioned well for the top 6 and still on the tails of Cliftonville and Portadown searching for a place in Europe next season.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Glentoran: Morris (capt), Holland, McCullough, Birney, Addis, McAlorum, Henderson, Gordon, Stewart, Scullion & Allen.
Subs: McCaffrey for Stewart (76) & McKee for Henderson (84). Unused: Hogg, Calvert & Kane.
Little Lily's Bistro 'Man of the Match' - Steven Gordon.