A second half goal from Ivan Sproule saw Linfield snatch the three points in front of a bumper Boxing Day crowd at Windsor Park. Unsurprisingly Glentoran manager Eddie Patterson had named an unchanged side after last week’s exciting Oval victory over League champions Cliftonville at the Oval.
It was Linfield who made most of the early running, enjoying the bulk of possession in the final third and profiting from some wayward passing in the Glentoran defence. However, bar a straightforward save from Sproule in the first minute, they gave Elliott Morris in the visitors’ goal little to trouble him. The Glens were restricted to long range efforts, Jonny Addis firing over the bar and Jordan Stewart shooting wildly off target when he appeared to have more time and space to make more of a promising situation.
On twenty four minutes Glentoran had their first clear chance of the game after winning their first corner. Niall Henderson swung the ball in from the left which was met with a powerful header from Steven Gordon, but Ross Glendinning in the Linfield goal produced an outstanding save to keep the game scoreless. However just a couple of minutes later the Glens were in front. Marcus Kane found Jordan Stewart down the left and his cross was met by Curtis Allen. His initial shot was blocked but the loose ball fell nicely for Gordon who gleefully blasted the ball under Glendinning in front of the Kop Stand.
The goal had come very much against the run of play but it gave the visitors the fillip they needed and confidence started to grow in the Glentoran ranks. Indeed with three minutes to go to the break they could have had a second, Gordon sending Allen clear but he was forced to shoot from a tight angle and Glendinning was able to save. Just as it looked as though the Glens would hold a precious half time lead Linfield snatched a crucial equaliser. The impressive Stephen Lowry sent a cross in to Sammy Morrow from the right and the Linfield striker turned sharply in the box and fired past Morris.
Linfield started the second half as they had the first, enjoying plenty of possession without creating any clear cut chances. Sproule and Morrow were finding space on either wing and getting crosses into the box but Morris was handling confidently and snuffing out the danger. Unfortunately, just as it looked as though the game was heading for a draw, Linfield grabbed the winner. The Glentoran defence were guilty of ball watching as a cross field pass from Andy Waterworth found Sproule in acres of space and he bore down on goal to slide the ball low past Morris. Having given his side the lead there then came a moment of quite astonishing idiocy from the former Northern Ireland winger. Booked just minutes earlier for dissent towards a linesman he ran towards the corner to celebrate, removing his shirt in the process and giving the referee no option but to issue a second yellow and subsequent red.
No doubt Sproule’s team mates were cursing him during the closing minutes as the Glens pushed forward against the ten men in search of an equaliser. While they were gaining plenty of possession around the Linfield box the final ball was found wanting and Linfield were holding firm with reasonable comfort. There was to be one more chance, Barry Holland’s ball in from the right finding substitute Stephen McAlorum in space but he pulled his shot wide of the post.
A disappointing result but once again this young side has shown that it can give any team, be it league champions or league leaders, a run for their money. Now lying in fifth place in the table Glentoran will hoping to consolidate that position in their opening games of the New Year against Institute at the Oval and away to Warrenpoint Town.
Photographs courtesy of Colin McMaster.
Goals on BBC Sport NI HERE
Elliott Morris, Barry Holland, Willie Garrett, Jonny Addis, Steven McCullough, David Scullion (sub Stephen McAlorum 61mins), Niall Henderson, Steven Gordon, Marcus Kane (sub Danny McKee 79 mins), Jordan Stewart, Curtis Allen