For the second time in just four days Glentoran clocked up a victory over a team above them in the Danske Bank Premiership. Having put third-placed Crusaders to the sword on Saturday with a 3-0 win, this time the east Belfast outfit headed to Windsor Park to play bitter rivals Linfield, who occupied second spot in the table. The Glens knew that if Cliftonville bettered the Blues' result on Tuesday, they'd be champions for a second successive year - so stopping their Big Two counterparts' title challenge for this year and notching up a first victory over the south Belfast side since just shy of two years ago would be a satisfying reward given the disappointing campaign that Eddie Patterson's men have endured.
Unfortunately the task was made even more difficult for last year's Irish Cup champions before kick-off even started as Curtis Allen, Calum Birney, Jay Magee, Willie Garrett and Jim O'Hanlon were all unavailable for selection along with long-term absentees Marcus Kane and David Howland, who played forty five minutes last Wednesday for the reserves against Ards as he edges nearer to a highly anticipated return to action. With his resignation announced several weeks ago, David Jeffrey was taking charge in what was his final home game as Linfield manager and last Big Two derby as figurehead of the Windsor Park side.
The game kicked off and the home side were undoubtedly fastest out of the blocks as a youthful, inexperienced Glens' side looked shaky and nervous on the ball. Five minutes in and Mark Haughey slammed an effort well wide of Elliott Morris' upright before former Glenman Andy Waterworth's strike sixty seconds later suffered a similar fate. Kym Nelson tried to respond for the away team though it was all Linfield as the young midfielder's shot flew well over the target. On 13 minutes Philip Lowry had a tame header easily saved by Morris when the midfielder should've done better, and five minutes later Glentoran almost took the lead as neat build up play led to a David Scullion shot that was blocked on the goalline by teammate Danny McKee!
With just over twenty minutes played Linfield should've went infront as Lowry scuffed a close-range volley over the bar when a good connection would've certainly resulted in a goal, before Waterworth went through on goal only to be bettered by Morris; the Glens' captain smothering smartly at the feet of the pacy striker. However, from that moment on the Glens took control and put in what could arguably be described as the most complete performance all year. Though there wasn't much to boast about in the way of clear cut chances, the half did end with John McGuigan - who was probably the best player on the field all day - rifling an awkward volley from a tight angle about 20 yards out that had Jonny Tuffey desperately diving to make a smart stop; an absolutely amazing effort that almost resulted in the goal of the season!
Five minutes into the second half and Jason Hill was trying his luck forty yards from goal though his low fizzing effort was never troubling Tuffey as it flew wide, before the Glens broke from a Linfield free-kick and McGuigan's audacious 50-yard cross-field pass was inches away from finding the onrushing Stephen McAlorum as the Blues' shot-stopper nicked it from the former Donegal Celtic dyanmo's forehead. It was around this time that news filtered through from Shamrock Park that Cliftonville had taken the lead, with the North Stand now goading their counterparts as the fans knew that a draw would be enough to end Linfield's title chances.
Having said that it's clear that Danny McKee wouldn't be content with a draw because on 58 minutes the striker, who started this season at 1st Bangor in Division 1C of the Northern Amateur Football League, put the Glens in front. Jonny Addis hacked a clearance forward and McKee gambled, sprinting clear of Jimmy Callacher and Haughey, before controlling the ball, steadying himself and sliding a delicate finish into the corner beyond the reach of Tuffey to send the travelling support into rapturous celebrations.
Linfield sensed that the title was now really slipping from their grasp and tried to respond through Ross Clarke and Waterworth though Morris was equal to both efforts, before Haughey rose highest from a corner kick but couldn't direct his header goalwards. With just over 20 minutes left on the clock the Glens broke forward though with so many options Fra McCaffery couldn't find the right pass when, had he found Jordan Stewart wide on the right, the young winger would've been clear through on goal.
The Glens were really pressurising the Kop end now as corner after corner came to nothing, before Waterworth rounded Morris but couldn't find a teammate in the box, allowing the 'keeper to gather. On 85 minutes the Glens made it two. McKee broke down the left and found Fra McCaffery in the box who flicked it on under pressure from Callacher. Waiting at the back post was Jordan Stewart, who was at Linfield during his youth career, who nodded into the bottom corner.
That was it and the game petered out. Glentoran had finally defeated their arch rivals at the tenth time of asking since the last day of the 2011/12 season when two Calum Birney goals saw the Glens run out 2-0 winners. Hopefully that's brightened up everyone's Easter as Glentoran win two consecutive league games for the first time since mid-March. The last game of the season is this Saturday and we are away to Portadown - hopefully there'll be a good crowd heading down to see out the season.
A final mention to Jason Hill, who announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season after the Crusaders match on Saturday. Jason, who has played 326 times for the club across two spells and scored 17 goals, has served the shirt with such loyalty, passion and committment that he has been and always will be a firm favourite in the hearts of every Glenman, woman and child. Indeed, arguably the loudest chant of the game came after the final whistle as the North Stand rose in unison and bellowed "One Jason Hill" as the left back stood and applauded. Thanks for the memories Jason - LJAT.
Glentoran: Morris (capt), Henderson, Hill, Gordon, Addis, McAlorum, Nelson, McGuigan, Scullion, McCaffrey & McKee.
Subs: Bradley for Henderson (46) and Stewart for Nelson (70).
Unused: Miskimmin, Hughes & Kerr.
Highlights on 'The Irish League Show' on BBC Sport NI HERE