Glentoran's top two marksmen, Jay Donnelly and Conor McMenamin, were both on target as we won through to Friday night's European play-off final following a 2-nil win against Glenavon at the Oval on Tuesday evening.
With Caolan Marron missing through illness, Darren Cole partnered Paddy McClean in the centre of the defence. Skipper, Marcus Kane was back in his customary left back slot with Bobby Burns moving into midfield. Ben Cushnie, following a good showing against Cliftonville was also in the starrting XI.
The visitors, attacking the Sydenham End in the first half with a strong wind at their backs, had the first effort on goal after 4 minutes. A long ball forward put Conor McCloskey away. He opted for a drive from quite a narrow angle when a cross may have presented a better option for a team mate. His shot was comfortably dealt with by Aaron McCarey. Seanan Clucas played a ball out to Conor McMenamin on the left and he did superbly to cut the ball back for Clucas just inside the area. Glenavon keeper, Josh Clarke denied the Glentoran midfielder though with an excellent save. Moments later at the other end a quick throw in caught the Glentoran defence flat footed and Matthew Fitzpatrick had a chance to open the scoring but Aaron McCarey made a straightforward stop.
After those couple of early chances the game stagnated somewhat with both sides struggling to create any meaningful chances and players on both side making a series of sloppy passes and unforced errors. Just past the halfway mark of the opening period Ben Cushnie broke clear on the right before delivering a cross towards Jay Donnelly however it was intercepted by Calum Birney who headed behind for a corner. On 28 minutes a superb through ball from Seanan Clucas almost created an opportunity for Jay Donnelly but the Glentoran No.9 was unable to control the ball. 5 minutes later the Glens had a shout for a penalty. Conor McMenamin got the better of Sean Ward and drove into the area before firing at goal. Calum Birney blocked the ball behind but with the Glentoran players shouting for a penalty the referee pointed instead for a corner.
As the clock ticked towards halftime Matthew Fitzpatrick fired over from 25 yards and then the visitors had a penalty shout of their own when Bobby Burns blocked an effort in the area.
Halftime: Glentoran 0-0 Glenavon
Although the home side had the advantage of the conditions in the second half it was Glenavon who had the first opportunity. Matthew Snoddy went for goal from just inside the area but he was unable to replicate his wonder strike at Mourneview Park when the side met earlier in the season and Aaron McCarey was untroubled on this occasion. Two minutes into the second half the game turned in the home side's favour. Jay Donnelly and Conor McMenamin played a neat one-tow on the edge of the area before McMenamin curled his shot wide of the far post. Moments later though the same two players linked again with Jay Donnelly picking up the ball about 10 yards inside the Glenavon half before clipping it over Mark Haughey and into the path of Conor McMenamin. As Josh Clarke rushed out of his goal McMenamin calmly lifted the ball over him and into the unguarded net. Advantage Glentoran!
On 50 minutes McMenamin had another chance. Again Jay Donnelly was the provider, picking up a pass before feeding his strike partner. Unfortunately on this occasion Conor was unable to find the target. A couple of minutes later Conor McMenamin went past Sean Ward but was again off target with his shot. Glentoran were well on top now and the crowd felt that a second goal would seal it. Hrvoje Plum did well to win a corner on the right on 57 minutes. Conor McMenamin swung the ball into the area but Jay Donnelly saw his header go wide of the post. Just after the hour mark Paddy McClean picked the ball up in midfield and found Marcus Kane. Kane drove forward unchallenged before driving a low shot from 20 yards which wasn't far wide of the mark.
On 68 minutes the two Glentoran strikers combined one again and again it was McMenamin going for goal. This effort was on target but Josh Clarke kept it out having spilled the initial shot. Glenavon's strikeforce were starved of any real opportunities bar on the odd breakaway. Conor McCloskey had a half chance on 70 minutes but didn't trouble Aaron McCarey. Glentoran's second goal finally arrived on 71 minutes. This time it was Conor McMenamin with the assist, his cross from the left being headed home superbly by Jay Donnelly.
Glentoran were in control now and kept Glenavon opportunities to a minimum. Bobby Burns put in a magnificent shift in midfield whilst Rhys Marshall and Darren Cole, ably assisted by Paddy McClean and Marcus Kane ensured that they got their deserved clean sheet. In stoppage time there were further chances for Conor McMenamin and Rory Donnelly but we failed to add to out 2-goal advantage. However it was 'job done' and we move on to Friday night's decider against Larne at the Oval.
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: McCarey, Marshall, Cole, McClean, Kane (c), Plum (Crowe 72), Clucas (Powers 88), Burns, McMenamin, Cushnie (R. Donnelly 65) & J. Donnelly.