On their day they play football as appealingly as any other side in the League, but lately the goals have dried up.
Seventeen in the first 7 league games of the season, Coleraine hasn’t averaged a goal a game since. At least they remain mean at the back, but lack of goal power has seen the Bannsiders slip to sixth place in the table, just 5 points above bitter rivals, Ballymena United, their hosts in the first Holiday fixture.
Four of their last eleven in the league have ended scoreless (that’s two more than any other club all season), three of those at fortress Showgrounds. They may be averaging the best home crowds of the season so far, but it’s not the promise of goals that’s bringing them in. Not at the moment anyhow. Only Rodney Brown has scored for the Bannsiders in the last 360 minutes of football... and he’s a defender!
Coleraine fans need to go back six games to find a goal from one of their main strikers, Shevlin, Bradley or Friel. That was in a 2-0 verdict over Dungannon Swifts. Shevlin and Friel each claimed markers. There was an impressive 3-1 victory over Larne after that, but Coleraine has not won since. It feels a very long time since Lyndon Kane’s penalty cemented that Friday night success over the Inver men.
Has the league worked Oran Kearney’s men out, or don’t they have the firepower to trouble the best defences? They’d no problem against Warrenpoint in the League Cup, but then the south Down light-blues aren’t exactly Fort Knox when it comes to security.
Kearney addressed the lack of goals, speaking to Coleraine TV after the Crusaders game at the weekend. “It’s finding that consistency as number one, we are creating chances, but I think chances were at a premium today.
“There’s been other games like Glenavon at home where it finished 0-0 but we’ve had a mountain of chances and we haven’t put the ball in the net.
“I think across the pitch today [against Crusaders] we weren’t doing our jobs as well as we have done recently so we couldn’t create the quality of chance that we need to score a goal and I think that’s the part that disappoints.”
After eye-catching victories earlier in the season at Seaview and the one over Larne, Coleraine have had a less adventurous, more cautious look about them.
Their 2-0 victory over Glentoran in the League Cup, whilst deserved, saw them dominated for much of the 90 minutes. At least they got the job done that night, thanks to a breakaway and exquisite finish from Jamie Glackin, but they still needed a howler mistake from young Glens full-back Malachy Smith before confirming passage into the next round, Shevlin gleefully accepting the gift.
In the last two home games they’ve not set pulses racing either, expansive football not on either menu when north Belfast clubs Cliftonville and Crusaders visited... Blankety-Blank!
Certainly on Saturday the Crues wide men worked extremely hard at not letting Coleraine full-backs Kane and Traynor into the game, stifling the home side’s flow. Coleraine created precious little and only looked remotely dangerous in the few moments when Glackin found possession. And there weren’t enough of those.
Like a jockey unleashing the reins, Coleraine did increase the urgency in the last quarter-hour, but ironically it was Crusaders who came closest to scoring and winning the game.
Matthew Shevlin has top-scored on 9 league goals, but rarely looks threatening in the big games - eight of his 9 coming against the bottom six. His last goal against a top six side was on opening weekend, putting his side 2-1 up at Larne, a game Coleraine eventually lost 2-4.
Tricky midfielder Conor McKendry has been Coleraine’s main marksman against the leading contenders, finding the net against Linfield, Glentoran and Larne, while the other main strikers Eoin Bradley and Cathair Friel struggle for consistency.
Friel normally has to emerge from the bench to find opportunities and while Bradley produced a man of the match performance in that 2-0 victory at Seaview earlier in the season, the 37-year-old has struggled to maintain the same level.
Oran Kearney will know better than most he needs to shake things up if Coleraine’s title challenge is not to falter further over the Holidays. Defensively they are solid enough, but overall look like a side in need of freshening up.
The January window may just provide that opportunity...
Footnote: Carrick Rangers, Glenavon and Linfield have all been involved in two scoreless draws each this season, while four clubs, Ballymena United, Dungannon Swifts, Glentoran and Warrenpoint Town have not been involved in any 0-0 draws.