Glentoran, relentless this season as part of the chasing pack, are out to underline their title credentials at Inver Park this evening (1945 hrs).
But will they be as consistent now they’ve hit the front?
After grabbing top position for the first time this season, they dropped points at struggling Portadown, their league leadership lasting not much more than 72 hours. And tonight provides an even stiffer test than the one presented at Shamrock Park ten days ago.
A term that keeps coming up just recently has been ‘bounce-back-ability’. Larne boss, Tiernan Lynch has it in abundance.
When Lynch has looked under pressure, his charges have swiftly rallied back, cue their 3-2 New Year’s Day success at The Oval, the 2-0 elimination of Linfield in the Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield glory over the same opposition. Each of those were achieved after setbacks.
Inconsistency leading to under-performance in the title race, continues to be Larne’s enemy. However in a season where the least acceptable target is European qualification, they remain well-placed and fighting fit on two fronts. An Irish Cup quarter-final beckons against old-rivals, Ballymena, and they are certain to be involved in the end of season Conference League play-offs.
And there remains a slight chance of closing the gap on Linfield and Cliftonville for an automatic Euro place. Despite that looking a fading prospect it won’t stop Larne, three home defeats in their last four, wanting to do well in front of their home fans against the table-toppers this evening.
With a mantra of “one game at a time,” Mick McDermott has banned title-talk at an ever more expectant Oval these days and will know how difficult this evening’s task is. He’s come up short against his counterpart this season. Glentoran are yet to best Larne in three attempts, with the Inver-men the only side to have beaten the resurgent Glens twice.
He’ll also know that Linfield and Cliftonville remain too close for comfort and any slip-up will see each of the chasing clubs breathing down Glentoran necks ever more closely. Cliftonville, also in action this evening, are odds-on to win at Dungannon, and Linfield look an even greater certainty to increase Portadown relegation worries at the National Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
With 11 rounds remaining, there’s sure to be more twists and turns in this title race. There aren’t any easy games and it’s so tight and competitive between the top three. Cliftonville play the best football, but Glentoran are the team that simply doesn’t look like losing. And Linfield are of course, Linfield. The Blues can never be discounted.
Glentoran themselves have only occasionally looked breathtaking, but they’ve also developed the knack of edging close games and if necessary, winning ugly. Their last eight outings have been tight, all decided by one-goal margins apart from two draws. Five have been won and there was that solitary loss at home to tonight’s opponent. That run included two meetings with Linfield and thrilling victories at Solitude and Seaview. Prior to that they won 8 on the bounce.
Both sides appear to have a clean bill of health, although Glentoran will have Joe Crowe missing from their panel after taking a red card while playing for the reserves on Monday.
It promises to be a tense affair which could attract Larne's biggest home crowd of the season. It’s also Lee Bonis’ first tilt at the Glens as a Larne player. And if he can repeat the form produced in despatching Linfield from the Irish Cup, it will be an edgy night for what has become the league’s meanest defence.
Over the last 15 rounds, the Glens have conceded only nine goals... but three of those were in one game... against Larne!