This evening both Glentoran and Coleraine will try to maintain the upward trend Irish clubs so badly need in UEFA’s co-efficient rankings.
Due to poor performances in Europe’s club competitions up until 2018/19, Northern Ireland fell to a lowest-ever 52nd place, above only Kosovo, Andorra and San Marino in UEFA rankings, in the process losing one of four coveted European spots.
Better results last season including wins for Linfield, Crusaders, Ballymena United and Cliftonville, have propelled the province’s clubs back up to 48th and the restoration of the fourth Euro spot for next season. Successes for this evening’s local clubs in addition to some earlier progress through Linfield’s Champions League participation would further consolidate that push forward.
And there is realistic chance of success. Home advantage of course will de diluted with tonight’s contests taking place behind closed doors, but Glentoran and in particular Coleraine, should be good enough to prevail.
Each of this evening’s visiting foreign sides have been defeated, narrowly, by Linfield over the past three seasons, with each game at the National Stadium ending in 1-0 victories for the hosts.
San Marino’s La Fiorita, who face Coleraine, have never scored a home Euro goal in eight attempts, and indeed the only time they have ever avoided defeat in their 16-match European history was in the home leg against Linfield three years ago. They have managed to score twice away from home; in Liechtenstein (v Vaduz, L1-5) and in Andorra (v Engordany, L1-2).
Coleraine with a win, a draw and a defeat in their last three home European ties should be strong enough to defeat the Sammarinese as they aim to advance in Europe for the first time since dismissing Scotland’s Kilmarnock in the 1970/71 Fairs Cup.
They will be without Jamie Glackin (broken arm) and last season’s goalkeeper, Chris Johns, who recently joined Linfield.
It’s 71 years to the day since Glentoran returned to the Oval after the ground was severely damaged by World War Two German bombs, and by one of those strange twists of symmetrical footballing fate, this evening sees the Cock n’ Hens play their 50th home European tie at the famous old stadium.
Despite a full bill of health, their fate appears more difficult than that of Coleraine’s with as many as five new players potentially making their debuts, and facing an opponent that has not suffered from any league disruption due to Covid-19.
The championship in the Faroe Islands has continued unhindered and tonight’s opponents HB Torshavn are making a pretty good fist of turning the Meistaradeilden into a procession. Of their 17 games played to date, they have won 15 and drawn once, losing only to NSI Runavik, who were eliminated from last season’s Europa League by David Jeffrey’s Ballymena United.
HB stands for Havnar Boltfelag (Harbour Football Club) and they have won their last eight league games on the bounce for a goal difference of 29-4. They defeated strugglers AB 11-0 in their last outing just over a week ago.
For the Glens playing in Europe for the first time in five seasons, only a top performance will do. Should they prevail this evening it will represent their tenth home win in Europe and advance them to a First Qualifying Round meeting with Scotland’s Motherwell at Fir Park.
HB are a better side currently than when they narrowly lost out (2-3 on aggregate) to Linfield last season, when they could manage only a fourth-placed league finish. But then so to the Glens are a much improved outfit than what we’ve seen in recent times.
It should be a very tight contest at the Oval, but perhaps not a spectacle with high winds forecast, possibly reducing the contest to lottery proportions. Whichever side is more adept at playing on the deck may well win the day.
I fancy two home wins, but Glentoran may have to go longer than 90 minutes to secure their’s. That being the case, their recent marathon ties in the Irish Cup should stand them in good stead.