It was a game dominated by penalties as Glentoran finally progressed into the Sixth Round of the Sadler’s Peaky Blinders Irish Cup at the Oval this afternoon.
Mick McDermott had to make a few late changes to his line up with Cameron Stewart injured, Paul O’Neill suspended, Darren Murray unavailable and Robbie McDaid and Paddy McClean rested on the bench following a tough but successful Christmas series of fixtures. Marcus Kane returned at left back, Antonio Duric had a rare start up front while new signings Keith Cowan and Ciaran O’Connor were on the subs bench, having just been cleared by the IFA.
The Glens had most of the play in the first half, against a Ports team resplendent in a very fetching burgundy and orange ensemble and playing in front of a very impressive and noisy travelling support, but never really looked like making the necessary breakthrough. Navid Nasseri in particular, caused the Ports defence a lot of problems with his running and probing but there was little real pressure on Ports keeper Edwards. After ten minutes Duric did very well to send Nasseri away but his excellent cross into the box was headed clear by Portadown centre half Finnegan. The Glens also had a decent penalty claim dismissed when Joe Crowe was cut down when through on goal on thirteen minutes.
Throughout the half the hard-working Glens were first to every ball and never looked in trouble at the back. But despite Nasseri’s determination and trickery, we clearly missed the pace and physical presence of O’Neill and McDaid upfront as we didn’t look like scoring until the fortieth minute when – after a period of relentless pressure – Joe Crowe tested Edwards, probably for the first time in the half, from the edge of the box. This was followed by a great ball across the goal from Kane, but no one was on the end of it.
Then on 43 minutes came the breakthrough goal, but not the one we all expected. Stephen Teggart found himself in lots of space on the left wing, swung in an excellent right footed cross that Lee Bonis, challenged by Marcus Kane, nodded high into the Glentoran net. One nil to Portadown! That’s how it stayed until half time with Glens supporters shocked but still confident at that stage.
Half Time: Glentoran 0-1 Portadown
The Glens didn’t start the second half as brightly a usual, and it was twelve minutes into the half before our first effort on goal, a Kane shot off the bar from a Plum corner. Almost straight away it looked like Gavin Peers, magnificent in defence as usual, latched onto yet another teasing ball from Nasseri. Shot through the Portadown defence, only to have it headed off the line by Paul Finnegan. There were inevitable appeals from surrounding Glens players but to be fair the TV evidence pretty clearly illustrates it hadn’t crossed.
On the hour the Glens made an attack minded substitution that had a big influence on the final outcome of the game. Joe Crowe, who had played a strong role in defensive midfield, was replaced by Jonny Frazer who moved wide left with Cricky Gallagher moving back and Navid Nasseri taking on a more central role behind Duric. However apart from a good run by Elvio Van Overbeek we still created little for the next ten minutes and an element of uneasiness was starting to make its way inti the big Glens support and the team’s play. That led to the introduction of Ciaran O’Connor for his debut on seventy minutes, earlier than Mick McDermott had anticipated, in place of Antonio Duric, who had worked hard up front on his own.
In the next ten minutes the Glens continued to dominate but – despite efforts from Kane, Frazer and Plum – still looked unlikely to break the deadlock. The final Glens substitution came on eighty-three minutes with Paddy McClean introduced for Connor Pepper. But the Ports held on resolutely and their defence seemed comfortable as the Glens had no recognised strikers on the pitch.
The Glens support had a little desperate hope when referee Lee Tavinder signalled four minutes injury time. With a minute of it left to go Jonny Frazer, whose pace and strength had unsettled the Ports defence, ran onto a Nasseri header inside the Portadown box. He fell under the challenge of Paul Finnegan and the ref had no hesitation pointing to the penalty spot. Hrvoje Plum showed absolute nerves of steel as he stepped up and sent Edwards completely the wrong way for his twelfth goal of the season.
So that was it. 1-1 at full time. Surely, we would be able to press on for the inevitable win?
Normal Time: Glentoran 1-1 Portadown
Any idea that it would now be plain sailing into round six were very quickly dispelled as, one minute after the restart, former Glenman Chris Lavery’s deep cross beat the entire Glens defence for substitute Liam McKenna to stoop low and head home to restore the Ports’ lead. However, this time the Glens struck back within a minute. A good interchange between O’Connor and Kane on the left side, saw the debutant cross deep where Gavin Peers showed incredible tenacity both in the air and on the ground to force the ball through to Johnny Frazer whose left foot turned the ball in for the equaliser.
The Glens dominated the rest of extra time with Nasseri at the centre of all our attacking play. But despite efforts from Kane, Plum, Frazer and Navid himself, the Ports keeper was outstanding and made a couple of very important saves as extra time trickled to an end.
Extra Time: Glentoran 2-2 Portadown
Photographs by PACEMAKER
So, it was down to penalties. The Glens took an early lead as Plum scored with Salley and Mckenna missing the Ports first two efforts. However, there was further tension introduced when Navid Nasseri missed his penalty. Cricky Gallagher and Jonny Frazer scored the Glens next two with Lavery and Carmichael converting for Portadown. Ciaran O’Connor – bravely volunteering in his first match in four months – had his effort saved by Edwards, evening things up again. Paul Finnegan for the Ports and Paddy McClean for the Glens scored before Christopher Crane skied his effort. That meant goal the winner if Gavin Peers scored the next one. Despite the fact that we haven’t seen Peers take a penalty before today, the crowd’s confidence in the big Dubliner was such that there was no surprise when he calmly put it away. Just relief!
So, a tough win on a tough day and QUB beckons next month. This is the sort of performance and tie that are part of any successful cup campaign and the Glens players saw the match out in a way we might not have done over the past few years. Also the young Portadown team, although under the cosh for much of the game, allowed the Glens very few clear cut chances and they and their supporters outside Linfield, one of the biggest travelling supports we’ve seen at the Oval so far this season) can feel confident that their promotion campaign is in good hands. Despite the rivalry and sometimes bitterness between the two sets of supporters, most people will welcome Portadown back to the top division should they make it for next season.
Full Time: Glentoran 2-2 Portadown (5-4 on penalties)
Glentoran: Antolovic, Pepper (McClean 83), Kane (c), Peers, Garrett, Gallagher, Plum, Crowe (Frazer 60), Nasseri, Van Overbeek & Duric (O'Connor 70)
Penalty Shoot out:
Portadown Salley missed.
Glentoran Plum scored.
Portadown McKenna missed.
Glentoran Nasseri saved.
Portadown Duke scored.
Glentoran Gallagher scored.
Portadown Lavery scored.
Glentoran Frazer scored.
Portadown Carmichael scored.
Glentoran O'Connor saved.
3-3 on to sudden death
Portadown Finnegan scored.
Glentoran McClean scored.
Portadown Crane missed.
Glentoran Peers scored.