Glentoran’s season continued in the most positive possible vein at the Oval today, with an outstanding performance yielding a highly deserved 3-0 Boxing Day “Big Two” win over Linfield. A cheeky first half opener from Elvio Van Overbeek and two in the last fifteen minutes from Hrvoje Plum ensured the Glens have now taken 27 points from a possible 33 in our current eleven game unbeaten run.
Despite the torrential overnight rain in East Belfast, our groundsman William Kirkwood and a collection of hard-working volunteers worked tirelessly and ensured the pitch was playable. The Glens were again led out by Gavin Peers in the absence of skipper Marcus Kane, missing today following a terrible family tragedy. In a very heart-warming gesture, play stopped in the third minute as supporters and players of both clubs paid tribute to little Harrie Marcus Kane, and his family through a minute’s applause.
The Glens started with two changes from Saturday’s win at Carrick, with Elvio Van Overbeek and Cameron Stewart in for John Herron and Darren Murray, both named as substitutes today. The selection of Van Overbeek paid dividends in the seventh minute when he cheekily backheeled Navid Nasseri’s pass beyond Rohan Ferguson to give us an early lead, a lead we maintained five minutes later when the ubiquitous Conor Pepper was on hand to clear off the line from Jimmy Callacher’s goal bound header.
Possession was fairly even for the next twenty minutes or so with few cast iron chances created. Willie Garrett headed away a Joel Cooper effort while at the other end Elvio Van Overbeek made a positive run into the Linfield box but was well tackled and dispossessed by Josh Robinson. On the half hour Cooper – playing wide right today, presumably because of the way he was controlled by Conor Pepper on the other flank in our earlier league meeting – had a shot spilled by Antolovic but the waiting Waterworth was flagged offside as he dramatically fell to the ground.
The Blues were allowed plenty of possession in the remainder of the half but due to a resolute performance by the Glentoran back four and very effective pressing by midfield and the forward players, the Glens never looked in serious danger as the half ended.
Half Time: Glentoran 1-0 Linfield
Linfield started the second half reasonably brightly, but unlike recent games against Coleraine and Crusaders, the Glens comfortably withstood any early pressure with Peers and Garrett dominant in the centre and Pepper and McClean comfortably eliminating any threat from Cooper and the ineffective Jordan Stewart on the Linfield flanks.
At this stage of the game the Glens didn’t look like scoring. But nor did we at any period look like conceding. The defence, effectively marshalled and led by stand-in skipper Peers, always seemed to have extra men and were effectively protected by the hard work and interventions of Cricky Gallagher and Hrvoje Plum. Also, Navid Nasseri was always available to take and hold possession to give the midfield some relief and to feed Cameron Stewart in particular, whose work rate was immense and who pulled Robinson and Callacher in various directions without really threatening Ferguson in the Blues’ goal.
Linfield’s possession threatened to pay off on 67 minutes when, following a goalmouth melee from a corner, Jordan Stewart’s speculative shot hit the outside of Antolovic’s far post. Five minutes later a quick free kick from Fallon found Cooper on the left and his cross was headed past the keeper by Waterworth. However, the Linfield striker was clearly offside, and this was quickly flagged by the linesman.
That was as good as it got for Linfield, as three minutes later Stephen Fallon was deftly dispossessed by Cricky Gallagher in midfield. The ball broke to Hrvoje Plum who set off on a very direct run towards goal. With Stewart to his left and Van Overbeek to his right both in great positions, the Glens support was screaming for the big Croatian to find one or the other. But no, Plum kept going and from about 25 yards out hit a firm accurate shot in between Callacher and Robinson and into the left-hand corner of the net. 2-0 Glens!
Virtually straight away, Mick McDermott replaced Nasseri and Van Overbeek with Joe Crowe and Paul O’Neill. Crowe slotting straight in front of the Glens back four to add yet another layer of stability to the setup while O’Neill – full of strength and running as always – played a more roving role upfront.
The game was finally put beyond Linfield in the 82nd minute when Plum, taking possession on the right from a Pepper pass, skinned the pedestrian Josh Robinson, only to have his arm pulled as he entered the Blues’ penalty area. A penalty was awarded which Plum dispatched with his customary confidence. 3-0 Glens. That was basically game over, apart from a brief but welcome cameo from Johnny Frazer, on to replace Cameron Stewart for the final few minutes.
So, a great performance from Glentoran in all areas of the pitch. Resolute defending, strong, confident midfield play, and the ability to take chances when they came. We’ve now moved ahead of Crusaders into fourth place in the table, just three points of top place. A position we’d have all thought unlikely back in August. But the final word on this day should be from today’s captain, the immense Gavin Peers, who said after the game: “The win was for Marcus Kane - he asked us to leave everything on the pitch and we did that to a man, for him and his family - the rivalry went out the window for that.”
Full Time: Glentoran 3-0 Linfield
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: Antolovic, Pepper, McClean, Peers (c), Garrett, Plum, Gallagher, Nasseri (Crowe 77), Van Overbeek (O'Neill 77), McDaid & Stewart (Frazer 87)