In a game that had everything at the Oval on Wednesday night, Glentoran and Crusaders played out an enthralling 2-2 draw that included one of the best goals ever to grace the hallowed east Belfast turf. After what can only be described as a shockingly bad performance against Coleraine on Saturday, manager Eddie Patterson made several changes to the starting line-up with Barry Holland, David Scullion, Kym Nelson and Conor McMenamin all coming in to a 4-4-2 formation.
The game started badly for Glentoran. Just four minutes were on the clock when a last ditch tackle by the again exceptional Calum Birney denied Jordan Owens a clean run at goal, before the ensuing passage of play led to the big striker feeding Paul Heatley who jinked past Elliott Morris in the Glens' goal. Heatley went down and whilst Morris admits there was some contact, it appeared very soft indeed. In fact, much to the anger of the Oval faithful, referee Andrew Davey then produced a red card despite two Glentoran defenders getting back to cover on the line.
Substitute goalkeeper Aaron Hogg came on for Scullion with Patterson retaining the two strikers despite only having ten men, and the big 'keeper got down low to push Michael Carvill's spot-kick wide with what was his first touch of the game. The game became a fairly cagey affair thereafter with much of the play occurring in the midfield but then, on 19 minutes, Jordan Stewart scored an incredible opener. The wee magician picked the ball just outside the centre circle, took a touch and absolutely hammered the ball beyond the flailing Sean O'Neill's grasping hands. A wonderful, wonderful goal that would light up any league across the world.
Ten minutes later and Crusaders were level. Jay Magee was outpaced on the wing by Heatley and the centre half opted to simply stop him in his tracks. Surprisingly, despite it being his first offence, he was booked for the challenge. With a big team like Crusaders the marking has got to be tight for every single set-piece and though the Glens defence performed excellently all night, unfortunately Josh Robinson was left unmarked to simply nod home the resulting free-kick.
The league champions did pile the pressure onto Hogg's goal as the first half drew to a close, but the 10-men Glens held out until half-time.
Having been under the kosh of the latter stages of the opening forty-five minutes, the east Belfast side came out fighting in the second. Five minutes in and Stephen McAlorum fired a snapshot wide of the upright, before Stewart was unable to reproduce his first half piledriver as a shot on the turn from the number 11 flashed just wide of O'Neill's left hand post. With 58 minutes on the clock a long ball to McMenamin was controlled brilliantly by the former Linfield striker and he fed Curtis Allen. The Glens' top scorer from last season danced past Colin Coates who tripped him up in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
Stewart took the resulting penalty and dispatched it effortlessly into the bottom corner for his 3rd goal of the season so far. Glentoran were back in front against the league champions with just 10 men on the park, however unfortunately the lead didn't last too long. After Hogg, who merely went to retrieve the ball for a goal kick, and Stewart, who cleared from the edge of the box literally one second after Davey had blown his whistle, were both booked Crusaders equalised. A cross from the wing found the powerful Jordan Owens who, despite the best efforts of the Glens defender, headed home to level the game.
Credit must be given to Glentoran who kept going forward when it would have been much easier to sit back and 'take a point', with McMenamin's low shot in the 78th minute being held by O'Neill and a last-gasp free-kick being flashed across the box but unfortuantely nobody was there for what would've been an easy tap-in. The game ended 2-2 and given the 86 minutes played with 10-men against the league champions the Glens can be very pleased with this result. A big reaction was needed from the Coleraine game and it happened, so next up is Carrick Rangers away on Saturday at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena (Taylor's Avenue). Kick-off is 3pm but please remember that this game is an ALL-TICKET encounter.
Photographs by Thomas Sewell.
Match Highlights on Glens TV HERE
Glentoran: Morris, Holland, Birney, Magee, Kane, McAlorum (capt), Nelson, Stewart, Scullion, McMenamin & Allen.
Subs: Hogg for Scullion & McCaffrey for Nelson. Unused subs: Addis, Garrett & McKee.
If you missed out on getting a copy of last night's Glentoran Gazette you can buy one online HERE