Another Irish League TV blockbuster is in store this evening when Crusaders, unbeaten in five take on second-placed Glentoran.
The Glens fresh from Monday’s Sky TV classic at Solitude, an enthralling game which they won 2-1, will head to Shore Road having lain a ten-year league hoodoo on their last Seaview visit back in November.
On that occasion a late Hrvoje Plum free-kick, his only goal of the season so far, proved enough to secure victory in a fixture lorded-over by the Crues for a decade.
Crusaders, plagued by inconsistency in 2021, have nevertheless often looked capable this season. And after the most recent seven-game run (just one defeat suffered), previous fluctuating form has become a pattern of positivity.
Even their solitary defeat was tinged with justifiable controversy, Robbie Weir being red-carded, a victim of mistaken identity, before Glenavon’s Matthew Fitzpatrick scored late on to sink ten men at Mourneview. It’s the only goal conceded by the Crues over that same sequence of games, five of which were won.
Including the recent Irish Cup outing in which revenge was extracted over Glenavon, Johnny Tuffey has not been beaten for 545 minutes.
The Crues should be fresher than their visitors this evening having last played six days ago, while the Glens were in action as recently as Monday night.
Their game at Solitude was a thriller, possibly the best live tv game we’ve seen from these shores and one in which they were forced to display immense character to repel incessant Cliftonville pressure in the closing stages.
We’ve all at times read upbeat match reports on local games and wondered ‘was this the same game as I was at?’ but this was a 90 minutes in which no-one present could question the superlatives written afterwards.
Tonight may not be as attractive, yet promises a full-blooded, intriguing affair between two sides fully up for the occasion. It should still be compelling viewing at a Seaview Stadium which expects to have the Sold Out signs up before kick-off time arrives.
If Crusaders defensively have been the benchmark over recent weeks, then Glentoran are unequalled when it comes to road-form. They’ve taken more points (11) than any other club away to the top six, form as good as their home return has been poor, only one point gleaned in four Oval games against the top half-dozen. Incidentally that Oval record includes a commensurately comfortable 3-0 victory for Crusaders.
Since losing at Solitude in the first week of September, Glentoran has been unbeaten away in the league, winning 7 and drawing 2.
The Crues are never the respecter of big reputations and it’s challenges like this one, against big-spending Glentoran, they relish.
It could come down to whether or not the home side’s central defensive pairing, certain to include Josh Robinson and either one of Chris Hegarty or Daniel Larmour, can keep Jay Donnelly, the league’s hottest goal-property in check, should Donnelly be available for selection.
The margins will be narrow, tonight’s blockbuster is far too close to call.
Current Irish League table (top 7) ...