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Reds, Blues Stalemate as Glens Implode...

Title Race now down to two...

Ethan Devine rises above Cricky Gallagher during the second-half at Solitude.

Scheduling presented the opportunity to look at all three of the top six clashes last weekend, producing few surprises. If there was a talking point of course it was Crusaders’ spectacular margin of victory over Glentoran at the Oval.

Anyone watching Glentoran huff and puff in recent weeks won’t have been surprised by the defeat, but the margin and manner will have certainly produced shock waves!

But let’s start with the big one... at Solitude.

It wasn’t the perfect result for either side, but David Healy will have been the happier of the coaches at the conclusion.

Of course he wanted to win the game, but not losing was even more paramount. The Blues had the complexion of a World Champion boxer who knew the other guy must beat him to take the belt, “Show me what you got, Cliftonville.”

Paddy McLaughlin: “We are not too disappointed with the point, bit we are certainly not celebrating a draw.”

And on the day, the Reds just didn’t have enough. They weren’t inferior either though and after a game in which neither wanted to push the envelope too far, this season’s intriguing title race trundles on nicely... unless you’re a Glentoran fan!

Good Friday’s Blues-Glens clash at the National Stadium is next on the agenda with the Oval men’s role now reduced to potential spoiler and Euro hopeful. Early season east Belfast optimism has descended into twisted, bitter despair after a sequence of indifference and a bungled Irish Cup campaign in which they remained unbeaten... on the pitch.

If Glentoran’s game at the weekend attracted second-billing, it was certainly the Oval from where the story of the day emerged.

Apparently chasing the title, put simply, they were inept, clueless and timid actually. Crusaders with little to play for, did all the things they do well, arguably didn’t even get out of second gear and still won at a canter.

Directionless, disjointed Glentoran had scored more than once in a game only against Dergview, Queen’s, Glenavon and a weakened Carrick Rangers in their previous dozen outings. On Saturday they couldn’t even muster one, although they should’ve had a penalty at 0-2 when the otherwise excellent Ross Clarke clumsily tumbled McCartan in the box.

Defending for the goals conceded was the stuff of Amateur League 3C folly, with due and respectful apology to that body of clubs, resulting in an unflattering 0-4 spanking that no amount of appealing nor arbitration could ever come close to reversing.

Yet the funny thing is... the weekend’s events at the Oval could spell danger for Healy’s Linfield, something that will not be lost on the Blues boss chasing his fourth title in a row.

A defeat such as Glentoran suffered often spurs reaction, and if Mick McDermott’s team has any heartbeat left, it could reverberate strongest on Friday with the opportunity to derail their greatest, traditional rival.

But that theory didn’t quite play out after their last aberration at home to Crusaders back in September, when Linfield came, saw and conquered a few nights later, adding a second consecutive three-goal home defeat for the Glens.

Even with Linfield not quite clicking up front you wouldn’t completely discount a repeat, but if McDermott can somehow rally his troops and instil some pride, the Glens have enough individual quality to cause trouble.

Still, there’s a lot not right at the Oval these days, and what will happen is anyone’s guess.

Linfield’s Chris Shields strolled majestically at Solitude, dictating the tempo, but if he had a rival for the weekend’s top performer it came from Friday night’s clash between Larne and a Coleraine side who make Glentoran’s current plight look almost palatable.

Mark Randall gave a master-class. Chief architect for Larne’s opener scored by Lee Bonis, he followed up with a 20 yard scorcher into the bottom corner, effectively ending the game four minutes shy of the interval. Randall pulled the strings brilliantly from midfield and was behind most of Larne’s creativity in an overall decent team performance.

Mark Randall (left) topped off a top drawer performance with a superb goal for Larne in the 41st minute.

Coleraine’s butter-knife attack rarely looked capable of one never mind two, with the ineffectual and complaining Eoin Bradley, enjoying a better weekend with his Gaelic club (he scored a brilliant and memorable point), than with his football mates.

It’s clear where the Bannsiders need to improve next season and equally obvious that whichever club carries off the Gibson Cup in 2022, it will be one where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Take note, Glentoran!

Top Six results -
Larne ..... (2)3 ..... Coleraine ..... (0)0
Glentoran ..... (0)0 ..... Crusaders .....(2)4
Cliftonville .... (0)0 ..... Linfield ......... (0)0