Goals from Jonathan Smith and Steven Gordon along with a tremendous defensive display gave Alan Kernaghan his first victory as Glentoran manager. Jay Magee returned from injury and Curtis Allen after suspension while Niall Henderson replaced new father Stephen McAlorum. Large parts of the game were played in horrendous conditions and these very much determined the story of the afternoon.
The Glens kicked off towards the Sydenham End with the driving rain at their backs and inevitably enjoyed the bulk of the possession. The first clear cut chance came after 9 minutes when Fra McCaffrey and Steven Gordon linked up on the right but the latter's shot lacked power and was comfortably blocked for a corner Simon Kelly. This was the first of three in quick succession and the combination of Jonathan Smith's excellent delivery and the strong wind was causing Jonathan Tuffey all sorts of problems in the Glenavon goal. On 23 minutes another Smith set piece, this time from a free kick on the left, almost caught him out but the ball came back off the cross bar. The ball was then returned into the box by McCaffrey where Smith's diving header was well saved. The visitors were making little headway against the gale and becoming increasingly frustrated, Eoin Bradley earning himself a booking from referee Andrew Davey for simulation in the box while tussling for the ball with Jonny Addis.
The Glens knew that they would have to make the most of the wind advantage while they had it and the breakthrough eventually came on 33 minutes. Steven McCullough whipped in a free kick from the right which was met by another Smith header, this time a deft flick which flew across goal and in off the far post. The home side switched off a little after this and soon afterwards Glenavon had their best chance of the half as Joel Cooper shot low through a crowd of players but Elliott Morris, unemployed for most of the half, made an excellent save. Just before the break a McCaffrey lob into the box saw Steven Gordon and Ciaran Caldwell bear down on goal but Tuffey was quickly off his line to block and restrict the lead to a single goal.
The half time discussions centred on whether this would be enough and to make matters worse after a break in the weather towards the end of the first half the wind and rain returned with a vengeance for the start of the second. Glenavon were immediately on the attack and just three minutes in won a free kick just outside the box after Henderson earned himself a booking by bringing down Cooper. Former Glens winger Andy Hall stepped up to curl the ball towards the top corner but Morris made a great diving save to turn it round the post. Five minutes later the visitors came closer still as Morris tried to punch a corner clear only for the ball to come off the back of McCullough's head. It looked to be dropping over the line but captain for the day Barry Holland, a rock throughout the afternoon, cleared acrobatically off the line. With the Glens restricted to attempted breakaways into the gale Hall, Cooper and Daniel Kearns were sending in a number of dangerous crosses but the back four of Holland, Addis, Magee and McCullough along with 'keeper Morris refused to panic and stood firm against the onslaught with some fantastic blocks and clearances.
As the game drew towards its close the home crowd were becoming increasingly nervous, but on the flip side Glenavon's increasingly desperate push forward in search of the equaliser was always likely to leave space at the back for the Glens to break into. And so it proved with just four minutes left on the clock as McCaffrey broke from the centre circle and fed Gordon on the left. The midfielder cut inside and fired towards goal, his shot taking a deflection off Rhys Marshall to help it over Tuffey and into the back of the net to clinch the three points. A very welcome first victory for manager Alan Kernaghan after a tremendous battling display and he and the fans will be looking for more of the same as we face the long trip to Ballinamallard next Saturday.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Interview with Alan Kernaghan on Glens TV HERE
Glentoran: Elliott Morris, Barry Holland, Jay Magee, Jonny Addis, Steven McCullough, Niall Henderson (sub Karl Hamill 81 mins), Fra McCaffrey, Steven Gordon, Ciaran Caldwell, Jonathan Smith, Curtis Allen