Glentoran face a mammoth task in the second leg of this Europa League tie as slick Slovakians MSK Zilina ran out comfortable winners at the Oval this evening.
Eddie Patterson had his hands tied with the unavailability of several players due to holidays and injuries and handed competitive debuts to Kristian Gibson and Conor McMenamin. The game also saw the return of long term absentee Jay Magee after injury.
Right from the first whistle it was clear that the Glens faced an uphill task as the Slovakian full timers’ pace, movement and passing caused the home defence all sorts of problems. On the right Ernest Mabouka and Lukas Cmelik were linking particularly well and it was no surprise that the opening goal came from here with 12 minutes on the clock. A corner was played short to Mabouka and his wicked cross was met with a spectacular overhead kick by Matej Jelic which flew into the roof of the net. A couple of minutes later another Mabouka cross almost resulted in an own goal as Magee’s outstretched boot sent the ball flying into the side netting. However the Slovakians didn’t have to wait long to double their lead; on twenty minutes Calum Birney gave away a free kick 25 yards out, picking up a yellow card in the process, and Jakub Paur stepped up to curl a brilliant effort into the top corner giving Elliott Morris no chance.
At this stage it looked like the visitors could run riot as they controlled the game and the impressive Laszio Benes was trying his luck from all angles, sending a couple of efforts just wide of the mark. The Glens didn’t have their first attempt on goal until the half hour mark as Fra McCaffrey set up Jordan Stewart but his tame effort was easily saved by Milos Volesak in the Zilina goal. Nevertheless the home side were not wanting for effort and debutant Conor McMenamin almost gave them a glimmer of hope on 36 minutes. The young striker robbed Denis Vavro on the halfway line, ran clear and his powerful low drive looked destined for the bottom corner until Volesak produced a brilliant save at full stretch to give the Glens their first corner of the game. Right on the half time whistle McMenamin was involved once again, showing tremendous pace to beat Mabouka on the left and set up Fra McCaffrey, but Volesak was quickly off his line to block.
After the break there was little sign of the visitors easing up as just three minutes in Cmelik pulled the ball back to Miroslav Kacer whose wicked shot whistled just over the bar. But the Slovakians did increase their lead on 59 minutes and, while their first half goals oozed class, there was more than a little good fortune attached to this one. Following a half cleared corner Cmelik cut in from the right and sent an innocuous looking toe-poke towards goal, but the ball took a wicked deflection off a defender, wrong footing Morris and the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Once again to the Glens’ credit the heads did not go down and midway through the half the home fans had something to shout about. A brilliant long ball over the top of the defence from Fra McCaffrey found McMenamin who again ran clear and this time gave Volesak no chance as he drove the ball into the back of the net for his first Glentoran goal. On 81 minutes McMenamin was again causing problems as he broke down the left and his pass just failed to find McCaffrey in space in the centre despite a fumble from the ‘keeper. But yet again lady luck was against the Glens as from this incident Zilina broke upfield and Mabouka’s cross from the bye line came off captain for the night Marcus Kane for an unfortunate own goal with Morris again wrong footed.
So the Glens face next week’s trip to Slovakia with a mountain to climb and little chance of progression to the second round. On the positive side Patterson looks to have made a more than useful addition to the team in the shape of Glens man of the match McMenamin and everyone in this still young squad will learn much from their European experiences.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell
Glentoran: Elliott Morris, Barry Holland, Calum Birney, Jay Magee, Steven McCullough, Jordan Stewart (sub Jonny Addis 63 mins), Kristian Gibson, Steven Gordon, Marcus Kane (capt), Fra McCaffrey (sub Stephen McAlorum 83 mins), Conor McMenamin