Glentoran marched into the quarter finals of the Irish League Cup with a 3-1 victory over struggling Carrick Rangers at the Oval.
Steven Gordon gave Eddie Patterson’s men an early lead but Carrick equalised soon after through Brian McCaul. Gary Haveron’s newly promoted side then missed a glorious opportunity to take the lead when Elliot Morris saved Conor McCloskey’s penalty midway through the first half. Gordon restored the Glens advantage in the 75th minute and Curtis Allen sealed the victory with a low driven effort four minutes from time.
Just two places and four points separated these two sides in the table as they entered into tonight’s League Cup tie. It was the first of two successive contests at The Oval between the sides, with both teams eager to improve upon their indifferent form of late. The Glens headed into the fixture on the back of last weekend’s last-gasp draw away at bitter rivals Linfield and were installed as 7/10 favourites for the game. Carrick arrived in East Belfast having won only one of their last twelve games in all competitions and were rank outsiders at 3/1. Carrick came flying out of the traps and won a corner in the first minute which defender Daniel Kelly headed harmlessly over the bar. The Glens responded by taking the lead in the 3rd minute when Steven Gordon rose to meet David Scullion’s floated ball at the back post and headed home from six yards. It was the Newtownards man’s second goal of the season.
Glentoran almost doubled their advantage in the 6th minute when Steven McCullough’s ball down the left channel fell into the path of Fra McCaffrey. The Glens No.10 slid a ball across the six yard box toward Steven Gordon who was denied a second goal by some brave defending from Daniel Kelly who injured himself in the process and was replaced by Brian McCaul. Gers sub McCaul grabbed his side an equaliser in the 14th minute. The defender rose to meet Joe McNeill’s corner and powered a thunderous header past the stranded Elliot Morris at the back post. The Glentoran keeper was caught in no man’s land but redeemed himself several minutes later with a brilliant penalty save to deny Carrick Rangers the lead. Ballybeen man Willie Garrett was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area by referee Mervyn Smyth in the 21st minute and received a yellow card. Carrick skipper Conor McCloskey seized the ball amidst the Glentoran protests and placed the ball on the spot. He struck it low and to the keeper’s left but Elliot Morris pulled off a remarkable save which proved to be a watershed moment in the game.
Both sides had decent opportunities to take the lead before half-time but neither could capitalise. First Glens skipper Stephen McAlorum sent Fra McCaffrey through on goal in the 34th minute but Gers keeper Brian Neeson denied the midfielder in an one-on-one situation. Carrick midfielder Kyle Cherry was allowed to turn inside the box in the 41st minute but his goal-bound effort was saved by Morris.
After a highly entertaining opening 45 minutes, the opening exchanges of the second period were a somewhat dreary affair. Both sides failed to find any real rhythm and seemed intent upon surrendering possession at the earliest opportunity. The ball appeared to spend considerably more time in the air with both teams engaging in a spot of head tennis. The second half finally sprung into life in the 58th minute when first McCaffrey, then Gordon, had shots blocked inside the Carrick area and the ball pinged around before finally being hacked clear. Steven Gordon was developing a knack for arriving into the box and he almost gave Eddie Patterson’s men the lead in the 60th minute when he met Barry Holland’s cross and sent a storming header just over the bar at the back post.
Gordon didn’t have to wait long though before he did grab his second of the game. The towering midfielder made his way into the box and met David Scullion’s in swinging corner where he was able to prod the ball home from inside the six yard box. The 22-year-old restored his side’s lead with his third goal of the season. Young substitutes Conor McMenamin and Jonathan Smith were displaying some nice touches, with the former carving out a chance for Steven Gordon in the 78th minute. The winger dropped his shoulder and beat the Carrick right back with ease before sliding the ball across the six yard line. Steven Gordon failed to make proper contact with the ball and wasted a glorious opportunity to complete a deserved hat trick.
Gordon then turned provider in the 86th minute when his through ball found Curtis Allen just outside the area. The Glens striker took a touch before dispatching a low powerful drive toward goal which went in via the foot of the post. It was the forward’s 7th goal of the season and the 33rd of his Glentoran career. He wasted a great chance in the closing seconds to grab himself a brace after some good work by young McMenemin. The midfielder beat his man on the right hand side and whipped a low dangerous ball across the face of goal which fell right into the path of Allen just three yards from goal. With goalkeeper beaten, the usually clinical striker scooped his shot well over the bar and into the Glentoran fans in the stand behind the goal.
A 3-1 scoreline may sound more convincing that it was actually was but the result is what matters and Eddie Patterson’s men now find themselves in the quarter final draw. With some big name casualties after tonight’s round of fixtures, no one would bet against the Glens claiming more silverware this season.
Glentoran: Morris, Holland, McCullough, Garrett, Magee, McAlorum (capt), Gordon, Addis, Scullion, McCaffrey & Allen.
Subs: McMenamin for Magee (65), Smith for McCaffrey (74) and Gibson for Gordon (90).
Photographs by Thomas Sewell