In a Cup Final atmosphere today, Glentoran laid their playoff bogey to rest with the decisive and confident victory their performances in recent weeks fully merited. This was the team’s fifth consecutive victory and with a goal rate of fifteen for and just one conceded they have definitely ended the season in a positive and convincing manner.
Not surprisingly the Glens starting line-up was unchanged from Wednesday’s convincing semi final win over Glenavon. After an inevitably tentative start by both teams the Glens created the first real chance on eleven minutes when Conor McMenamin pulled a very good save from Nathan Gartside in the Cliftonville goal.
The Glens suffered a blow on 16 minutes when skipper Marcus Kane – playing at centre back today – had to leave the pitch after appearing to fall badly, a disappointing end to his 383rd appearance for the club. Moko was replaced by Joe Crowe with Luke McCullough taking the armband. A few minutes later the Reds had their first meaningful chance when Ronan Hale shot well over from a Chris Curran corner. This was quickly followed by a penalty claim by Conor McMenamin and a great leap by Junior when he was just beaten by Gartside to a back header from former Glens defender Jonny Addis.
The game turned on 34 minutes. Conor McMenamin, on one of his characteristically unplayable runs into the Reds box was tripped by Addis as he was poised to shoot. This time the referee had no hesitation awarding the penalty. With regular takers Jay Donnelly and Hrvoje Plum on the bench, Junior stepped up to take his first for the club. The big Londoner sent Gartside the wrong way as he hit his Panenka cleanly into the right side of the Reds goal to give the Glens a deserved lead.
The second came 6 minutes later and again was no more than Glentoran deserved. This time Aaron Wightman – outstanding since taking on the right back role v Linfield in April – did very well with his long, deep cross from the right. Terry Devlin forced a decent save from Gartside and Junior was on hand to score from the rebound for his second of the day.
Half Time: Glentoran 2-0 Cliftonville
Cliftonville made two major half time substitutions with Colin Coates and Sean Moore replacing Addis and skipper Chris Curran respectively.
The main talking points in the first 10 minutes of the half were 2 incidents that Glens supporters felt should have led to red cards for Cliftonville players. First Joe Gormley’s challenge on Bobby Burns in the Glens half when he was late and took his man, then a similar incident 2 minutes later when Ronan Hale, having lost control of the ball to Aaron Wightman, hit Wightman in the air with his studs up. Both incidents resulted in yellow cards when at least one would have easily merited a red.
There weren’t many clear-cut chances this half apart from a 2-minute spell around the hour mark when Joe Crowe headed a McGinn corner over the bar and Junior failed to connect with a great low goalmouth pass from Wightman.
A red card did come on 70 minutes, with substitute Donal Rocks send off just four minutes after coming on for Ronan Doherty. This was for a challenge on Terry Devlin in the Glens’ half, not dissimilar to the earlier Gormley foul. While merited, its hard not to wonder if this incident would have occurred had the other ones been dealt with more strongly.
So an outstanding and dominant performance from Glentoran with every player in every position in full command of their job and dominating a Cliftonville team that has had the upper hand in these games in recent years. A great credit to the players and to the management team under Rodney McAree. All have thoroughly deserved the response to them by the buoyant Glens crowd at the end of the game.
We now deservedly enter the draw for the 2023-2024 Europa Conference League with the first qualifying ties to be played on the 13th and 20th July. Full details of the draw - to take place on 20th June - will be announced on www.glentoran.com.
Full Time: Glentoran 2-0 Cliftonville
Photographs by PACEMAKER and Johnny Caldwell
Glentoran: McCarey, Wightman (Smith 89), Singleton, , McCullough, Kane (c) (Crowe 16), Burns(Plum 89), Devlin, Marshall (McGinn (R. Donnelly 70), McMenamin, & Junior (J. Donnelly 70)