Prior to kick-off there was a minute's applause as Glentoran remembered two legends who sadly passed away in the close season; former Chairman, John Crossen and former player, Bertie Wright. Both of these Glentoran stalwarts would have thoroughly enjoyed what was to follow, particularly the second half.
Manager, Mick McDermott named the same starting XI that started our 2022-23 campaign at Larne last weekend. The only change amongst the substitutes was the return of Paddy McClean in place of Ciaran O'Connor.
There were just four minutes on the clock when the visitors took the lead. Jude Winchester broke on the Crusaders right and cut the ball back to Ross Clarke who drove the ball across goal and into the far corner. With the Crues winning both of last year's Danske Bank fixtures at the Bet McLean Oval the large home support must have thought it was Groundhog Day!
A couple of minutes later Conor McMenamin swung in a corner from the left which Aidan Wilson headed over the bar. The Glens were back on terms on eight minutes though when Sean Murray found Rory Donnelly in the 6-yard box. Rory Donnelly's little flick towards goal was too good for Jonathan Tuffey and despite the best efforts of Daniel Larmour to clear, the ball crossed the line and we were level at 1-all. On the quarter hour mark the visitors suffered another blow when Ben Kennedy pulled up with what looked like a knee injury after he'd taken a corner and the Crusaders number 8 had to be replaced.
There was a half chance for Paul Heatley on 17 minutes at the end of a Crusaders breakaway but he fired high and wide. Conor McMenamin then went past a defender in the box before looking to be taken down but referee, Crangle waved away Glentoran's penalty appeals. On 25 minutes there was a rather ambitious effort from Heatley at the Sydenham End but it failed to trouble Aaron McCarey. Just before the half hour mark Crusaders had a great opportunity to take the lead but having raced clear of the home defence, Dean Ebbe lifted the ball over the crossbar.
In the closing minutes of a hard fought first half both sides squandered chances to go in front. A cross from Conor McMenamin was met by Jay Donnelly but his glancing header was wide of the target. Then from a Crusaders corner Jordan Forsythe saw his header flash just wide of the far post.
Halftime: Glentoran 1-1 Crusaders
With Jay Donnelly obviously struggling towards the end of the first half it was no real surprise to see him replaced for the second 45 by Alistair Roy. Both sides were back on the attack early in the second period with Chris Hegarty's mishit shot following a corner not causing any problem for Aaron McCarey and then Ali Roy fired wide from the edge of the box at the Sydenham End.
On 52 minutes Glentoran were given the chance to edge in front. Alistair Roy went past Billy-Joe Burns on the left but his cross was blocked b the outstretched arm of Philip Lowry. Referee, Ramond Crangle had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Conor McMenamin stepped up to send Tuffey the wrong way and put the home side intothe lead. Three minutes later it was almost 3-1. A long ball forward from McCarey was superbly controlled by Conor McMenamin. He cut inside Jarlath O'Rourke before curing a sublime effort past the helpless Tuffey and was desperately unlucky to see the ball crash off the far post before being cleared to safety.
Just before the hour mark an excellent cross from Marcus Kane was met by Ali Roy but his header was straight at the keeper. Sean Murray then collected a poorly cleared corner and was unlucky to see his drive go just wide of the post. Rhys Marshall, who had another excellent game, was crudely fouled by Paul Heatley. Conor McMenamin whipped the free kick across the 6-yard box where three Glentoran players just failed to get a vital touch which would have undoubtedly increased the home side's advantage. With 20 minutes remaining Crusaders had a great chance to make it 2-2 when Healtey broke down the right before sending a cross to the back post. Dean Ebbe, though well placed, could only head over the bar.
With 12 minutes remaining Glentoran finally got the third goal their second half display warranted. Following yet another foul on Conor McMenamin, substitute Shay McCartan swung a delightful free kick into the penalty area where Aidan Wilson rose above his former team mates to head past Jonathan Tuffey and sent the Sydenham End into raptures. McCartan himself had another chance on 83 minutes but his 20-yard effort was straight at the Crusaders keeper.
Apart from the goals there was one other main talking point in the game with five minutes remaining. 'Man of the Match', Conor McMenamin was again free on the right when he was subjected to a despicable and cowardly tackle by Crusaders substitute Joshua Robinson. The ball was gone and Robinson's only intent seemed to be to injure a fellow professional with an extremely late challenge which resulted in McMenamin having to leave the field (replaced by Danny Purkis). Robinson somehow managed to remain on the field, receiving just a yellow card for his actions!
Glentoran though saw out the game and will be reasonably satisfied with four points from what were two difficult opening fixtures. Next up is a visit to Stangmore Park to face Dungannon Swifts on Tuesday evening.
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: McCarey, Marshall, Wilson, Kane (c), Burns, Crowe (McClean 56), Murray (McCartan 75), Singleton, J. Donnelly (Roy 46), R. Donnelly & McMenamin (Purkis 86)