Our last Player Watch of the season features twenty-year-old Chris ‘Cricky’ Gallagher. He is a U19 Northern Ireland international playing in central midfield for Glentoran. He signed in September 2018 for the East Belfast side after guesting with them in a few pre-season friendlies having spent time with Shrewsbury Town in England.

Chris Gallagher was playing in his 29th game of the season for the Glens and has managed to earn a regular slot in the first team. Glentoran were playing in a 4-3-3 and his midfield colleagues were Conor Pepper and John Herron. From the early stages he appeared to take up a role slightly ahead of these two. He is light physically but has a ‘springy’ gait and is better set up to cover ground to support the front three than his midfield colleagues.

His first work was defensive as he worked hard to cover back cutting out Glenavon’s McCloskey with an excellent defensive header. He would show an admirable appetite for helping out his left-back Kane during the match. It would be five minutes before he got on the ball to try some offensive damage with a lofted ball out to Curtis Allen on the right but it was easily defended. It would be repeated with greater return later on.

His work still involved a lot of aid for Kane as Glenavon agitated down their right but it was clear he was keen to stamp some authority on the match. Another opportunity to do this was lost as he was barged off the ball.  If he had managed to stay on top of things it might have been a promising move. He possesses a deadly dead ball delivery in his locker and following a corner which he supervised will have been disappointed that the cleared ball did not get past the first man.

Glentoran’s midfield were starting to impose themselves on the game and his bravery in bringing the ball down in a frenetic area after a typical spell of Irish League head tennis was indicative  of this. It was clear the aerial exchanges over his head were starting to irritate him as he took off on a weaving run down the right touchline. The cross was partially blocked at the gain of ground for his team. It was a strong sign of intent nevertheless.

He was enjoying his best period of the game and was to be found on the penalty box taking down a cross on his chest. Holding off the defender he volleyed it over his left shoulder but it caught an opponent for a corner. It was an excellent position to adopt and was indicative of the threat the away team was now posing. The resulting corner though was cleared out to him now on the halfway line and he struggled with managing this particular situation but without damage to his team.

He was to recover his poise strongly, firstly standing up well to Wearen deep in his own half shepherding the ball away from danger. Soon after his involvement was key to Glentoran’s first goal as he cleverly ran into space to collect Herron’s good work. He advanced forcefully and at speed to find Allen whose cross was adroitly headed home by Murray. Soon after he raced back to cut out a Glenavon counter-attack and instantly was the source to reverting Glentoran’s shape back to some semblance of order. He seemed to be everywhere at this juncture of the game.

For the immediacy of the game he was involved in short and sharp skirmishes disrupting Glenavon getting into any sort of stride. He showed a bit of old head experience at a Glenavon free kick ensuring they had no quick advantage. This frantic play though started to impact on the quality of his own as a lack of composure started to creep into his game with a few loose passes.  This is something that he can work on.

The second half would not be as sure a game for him as he was involved in much more work than play if we can put it like that. He worked particularly well positionally with Herron and Pepper. With little communication one was always covering the other defensively and offensively and as a unit they provided a smooth conduit between defence and attack.

He was very aware to danger ensuring he was always on the right side of an opponent and another time was confident enough to stand arms wide to get his colleagues to a defensive line to hold a shape. His speed plays a part in this. Whilst well up for the battle he is not the strongest and was getting buffeted about in the midfield minefield. Anything that broke down for his side though found him more than willing to try and limit any damage. He was at the apex of a clever little passing triangle deep in the Glenavon left which helped establish some form of Glentoran authority as Glenavon were chasing the game hard.

His final moment of note was a ‘tactical’ tying of the lace immediately after Murray’s final and fourth goal. It was an excellent Glentoran performance and he played a big part in it.