The name of the popular Glentoran striker Jay Donnelly rang around the National Stadium this afternoon when the league's top scorer rose to head home a Hrvoje Plum free kick into the Linfield net to earn a point for 10-man Glens and keep Belfast's Big Two level on points at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with just over half the campaign completed.
There was one enforced change to Tuesday’s victorious line up from Coleraine. As anticipated, in form Joe Crowe moved into central defence to replace the suspended Caolan Marron beside Paddy McClean, with Hrvoje Plum getting the nod over Gael Bigirimana and Mal Smith to take Crowe’s midfield place.
As with the home defeat to Linfield in September the Glens started strongly and looked much more confident than a nervous Blues, and after six minutes Shay McCartan had a decent effort on goal after a clever link up with both Donnelly brothers. Then three minutes later Jay Donnelly broke through one-on-one with Chris Johns, from a Conor McMenamin headed flick. Donnelly did very well with his effort, but home full back Trai Hume covered his goal very well to clear it off the line!
But this was not a sign of things to come from the Glens, as Linfield increasingly came into the game to eventually dominate most of the half. The Blues had a few decent efforts from Palmer, Callacher and Stewart without really troubling Aaron McCarey in the Glens goal, and a [probing cross from Hume that didn’t connect with a teammate). Meanwhile some inconsistent decision-making saw Shay McCartan (fairly) and Joe Crowe (inexplicably) yellow carded while Chris Shields in the Linfield midfield had several at least robust physical challenges unpunished during the same period.
Linfield’s breakthrough came on 36 minutes and was in keeping with the balance of play. Matthew Clarke broke through on the left and his deft cross found Trai Hume on the far side of the box. Hume beat his marker to touch home for the opening goal.
Half Time: Linfield 1-0 Glentoran
The second half started in a similar vein with the commanding Aaron McCarey in the Glens’ goal pulling off a couple of excellent point-blank blocks. The first from Jordan Stewart and the second in which McCarey seemed to injure himself. Thankfully he wasn’t down for long. Also Joe Crowe made an excellent recovery to rob Christy Manzinga who had dispossessed Crowe in the first place.
The game threatened to move beyond the Glens on the hour when we lost the influential Conor McMenamin. He and ex Glens defender Jimmy Callacher each went in hard for a 50:50 ball in a clash that left both players on the floor. While supporters of either club shouted loudly for one or other player to be sent off, referee Andrew Davey decided to show the red to McMenamin. Both players were unfit to recover, with McMenamin stretchered off. Mick McDermott then made a tactical switch with Gael Bigirimana replacing Shay McCartan in a more defensive midfield role. The next ten minutes really involved both teams adjusting to the new uneven situation, with only a Jordan Stewart shot blasted over McCarey’s crossbar as significant goalmouth incident.
On 72 minutes the game took an unexpected but welcome turn for the vast and vocal Glens support. Seanan Clucas was fouled by Shields inside the Blues half, a relatively soft free kick compared with other unpunished challenges from the same player. The subsequent free kick was launched long and high by Hrvoje Plum. Jay Donnelly rose well above the defence to firmly head home for an equaliser. Yet another vital goal from Donnelly, remarkably his 20th strike in his last twenty-one appearances. A player currently consistently playing at a level rarely seen from a Glentoran number nine since the glory days of Blackledge and Macartney.
From this point the eleven men Blues still had the better of the chances, but Aaron McCarey was totally resolute in the Glens’ goal, well supported by his defenders, even through eight minutes of injury time, as the game ended with no further goals, sending the vast support in the North Stand home very happy with a hard-earned point in very challenging circumstances.
So the Glens end 2021 with a fourteen-game unbeaten run lasting three months, in which we have taken 34 points from our last 42 and established ourselves as the league’s top scorers. Plenty of reasons to enter the new year in a very positive frame of mind.
Full Time: Linfield 1-1 Glentoran
Photographs by PACEMAKER
Glentoran: McCarey, Marshall, Crowe, McClean (c), Burns, Plum, Clucas, McCartan (Bigirimana 61), McMenamin , J.Donnelly (Garrett 90+3) & R. Donnelly (Smith 87).