Glentoran made it a second consecutive Boxing Day victory and the third in the last four in tonight’s rearranged fixture when a late Conor McMenamin winner gave us a deserved 1-0 win after a dominant second half performance at the National Stadium.
Glens showed just one change from the win over Portadown at Shamrock Park last week as the recovered Caolan Marron returned at right back with Rhys Marshall moving to midfield.
The first 20 minutes were relatively uneventful with the only issues of note being a header clear by Marron from a deep cross by former Glenman Jordan Stewart, a blocked shot from Conor McMenamin after a mazy run when sent clear by Jay Donnelly, and a blast over the bar from Linfield skipper Jamie Mulgrew after a nice Linfield move involving four players.
Caolan Marron received a yellow card after 23 minutes for a clash with Mulgrew. It was definitely a foul, but the booking seemed harsh and influenced by a very early scream of pain and anguish from the Blues’ number 22. That incident apart, referee Raymond Crangle had an excellent game throughout.
Linfield had the best of the rest of the half and pulled two excellent saves from Dayle Coleing in the Glens’ goal, in the 33rd and 43rd minute, both from Shayne Lavery. Coleing was dominant and confident throughout the match, particularly when called on in the first half. It is a testament to Coleing and his defensive colleagues that Glentoran have conceded more than one league goal in three of our seventeen league games and that we now have the best defensive record in the league.
Half Time: Linfield 0-0 Glentoran
Apart from a third excellent save from Coleing – this time from Joel Cooper on 52 minutes, this was a very different 45 minutes. In a five-minute spell early in the half, the Glens had positive attempts on goal from McMenamin, Robbie McDaid (twice) and Hrvoje Plum.
Our routine could have been interrupted when we lost the influential and very consistent Cricky Gallagher after 58 minutes as the result of a clash with Jimmy Callacher six minutes earlier. Cricky was replaced by Gael Bigiramana and the former Newcastle United player settled seamlessly into the central midfield role, using all his experience to keep things calm and the game flowing in Glentoran’s favour.
Not long after his introduction, a precision ball from Bigi to Rhys Marshall led to a great right-wing cross from McDaid which saw Jay Donnelly’s on target header saved by Johns in the Linfield goal. This was our best chance of the game so far.
Four minutes later both sides made a midfield substitution – Ciaran O’Connor replacing Caolan Marron with Marshall moving to right back, and Stephen Fallon replacing Kyle McClean in the Blues midfield. Straight away Fallon was booked for a foul on O’Connor but that had no bearing on O’Connor’s performance as the Dundalk man was outstanding and very influential for the rest of the match, as he so often has been when introduced in recent months. After only seven minutes on the pitch he pulled a very good save out of Chris Johns with an excellent long-range shot.
The substitutions weren’t finished as after 65 minutes the dangerous Kirk Millar replaced the anonymous Navid Nasseri on the Linfield wing, and with 10 minutes left, Rory Donnelly replaced his brother Jay at centre forward for the Glens. The younger Donnelly had worked tirelessly and effectively throughout, and just before his departure brought good saves from Johns after wonderful runs from O’Connor and Marshall respectively. The Blues keeper also had to be on form to make a save from a Conor McMenamin snap shot.
It seemed that chances to win the game had done after man of the match Luke McCullough was unlucky with his header after a period of sustained pressure. But that wasn’t allowing for newly re-signed McMenamin. In the very last minute skipper Marcus Kane intercepted a long ball out of defence from Linfield, found Luke McCullough in space in his own half. McCullough ran with the ball before finding McMenamin on the right flank, Conor then cut inside and sent a left foot ball into the Blues 6-yard box. The ball deceived everyone to settle in the far corner of the net for the winner. Rory Donnelly played an important part in distracting the keeper. In fact many of us initially though the number ten had god the final touch, but he unselfishly pointed straight at his team mate to give McMenamin his second goal since rejoining the club and to give the Glens a thoroughly deserved third consecutive league win.
Full Time Linfield 0-1 Glentoran
Glentoran: Dayle Coleing, Caolan Marron (Ciaran O’Connor 62), Luke McCullough, Patrick McClean, Marcus Kane, Rhys Marshall Hrvoje Plum, Chris Gallagher (Gael Bigirimana 58), Conor McMenamin, Robbie McDaid, Jay Donnelly (Rory Donnelly 80)
Photographs by Pacemaker
Photographs by PACEMAKER