Glenavon .... (1)2 ..... Glentoran .... (1)4
With Linfield’s game postponed on Friday evening, Glentoran took full advantage - eventually - to reclaim top spot.
It wasn’t vintage from the Belfast Glens, in fact for long enough they weren’t the better side, but the character which has seen them lose only twice in their last 21 league outings (each time to Larne), proved decisive in the end.
It was Conor McMenamin who coined the phrase, ‘Big games, big names’ before the recent Big Two victory before going on to score the winner, and he might well have uttered the same pre-match phrase this afternoon.
For it was McMenamin who proved the difference again, clinching his second treble of the season. The former Cliftonville man is now level on 17 goals with Linfield’s Christy Manzinga, behind only team-mate Jay Donnelly (22) at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership scoring charts.
McMenamin and Donnelly have been absolutely key in Glentoran’s rise this season and the reason why the Glens have been so efficient in their chances-to-goals ratio.
It’s a side that doesn’t quite dominate games, nor does it create chances aplenty. In fact in many games the younger Donnelly brother has looked isolated and friendless up front, but switch off, give him an opportunity, and you can expect to see the ball hit the net!
Instead, they play in moments... at both ends of the field. Let’s not forget how Glentoran has handled being under the cosh too, when McCarey, MClean, Marron and Co have had to come up big in narrow wins at Crusaders and Cliftonville and at home to Linfield.
Except when facing Larne (the Inver men have beaten them twice in the league this season and drawn the other), they look like a side that simply won’t be beaten, one which knows how to get over the line and win football matches.
And that’s what they did again this afternoon.
Glenavon will be disappointed. The Lurgan Blues, much improved since early season, will be ruing not taking something from this ninety minutes. European play-off football is certainly a realistic aspiration on today’s evidence.
Twice they led and were value for it, before a breathtaking goal followed by a fortuitous one, swung the match in the opposite direction.
It was Matthew Snoddy who struck first after only 9 mins, benefitting from some good work by McCloskey and a hesitant Glentoran defence missing Patrick McClean.
McMenamin levelled things on 20 mins, making his first telling contribution by finishing brilliantly after Taylor had pushed away McDaid’s effort at full-stretch. The winger’s composure to round Haughey, was contrasted by the ferocity with which he lashed the ball into the partially guarded net.
But the goal failed to ignite the visitors. The urgency was there, it wasn’t quite clicking and Glenavon were interested. Not a huge surprise then on 61 mins, when Peter Campbell slalomed between Clucas, captain for the day, and debutant Cole, replacement for the injured Garrett, to rifle a fine finish across McCarey inside the far post.
Glenavon held the lead for 17 minutes without appearing stretched, until the moment which swung the match. Bobby Burns played a long ball for Ruadhri Donnelly to chase. With Haughey struggling to keep up. Donnelly wrapped his left foot around the ball, crossing first-time to his brother, who acrobatically executed a brilliant header past Taylor. Singleton tried to get close to the younger Donnelly but the striker’s instinct and athleticism took him beyond.
Then came the luck... This was tough on Glenavon and Taylor in goal must ultimately accept the blame. McMenamin hit a speculative cross on the turn. It avoided everyone and nestled in the net. Perhaps Taylor was distracted by O’Connor’s jump, or maybe the wind played tricks, but either way, this was one which the ‘keeper should have clutched.
Within three minutes Glenavon had gone from being 2-1 up to 2-3 down.
In the remaining 9 minutes plus 6 added, Taylor partially redeemed himself punching away a fierce Plum free-kick.
Gary Hamilton introduced Waterworth, Josh Doyle and O’Mahoney from the bench, but by then the home side were chasing the game and when O’Connor turned his man out wide and crossed, McMenamin’s well-timed run into the box provided the coup de grace.
His clinical finish gave Taylor in the Glenavon goal no chance.
Big games... Big names!
Glenavon: Taylor - Haughey, Ward, Birney, A Doyle (J Doyle, 88), Singleton (c) - O’Connor, Snoddy (O’Mahony, 88), McCloskey (Waterworth, 88) - Campbell, Fitzpatrick
Bench (not used): Lynch, Norton, Scannell, Hall
Glentoran: McCarey - Marshall, Garrett (Cole, 28), Marron, Burns - McCartan (R Donnelly, 62), Clucas (c), Plum, McMenamin - J Donnelly, McDaid (O’Connor, 62)
Bench (not used): Glendinning, Wightman, R Donnelly, Cushnie, Jenkins
Referee: Shane Andrews
34 - Marshall (Glentoran)
45+1 - McDaid (Glentoran)
73 - Matthew Fitzpatrick (Glenavon)
73 - Aaron McCarey (Glentoran)
90+4 - Conor McMenamin (Glentoran)