We take a break from the league action and turn our attentions to the County Antrim Shield semi-finals, both of which take place tonight. At Solitude, Cliftonville and Glentoran meet for the second time this season, and at Inver Park, Larne host league champions Linfield.
There are two cracking games being played and whoever wins either game, it is sure to set up what will be an interesting final, whenever that may be.
I will start off by taking a look at the game taking place at Solitude were the defending Shield champions, Cliftonville, welcome Mick McDermott’s Glentoran side, who are hoping to put their poor start to the league campaign to the side for tonight’s game.
Cliftonville v Glentoran (Tuesday 3rd November 2020, 19:45)
Cliftonville won last season’s County Antrim Shield in dramatic fashion with injury-time goals from Thomas Maguire and Ryan Curran stunning David Jeffrey’s Ballymena side, who had led for most of the second half thanks to Leroy Millar’s goal. This marked Paddy McLaughlin’s first trophy as manager at Solitude.
McLaughlin’s side have lifted the Shield three times in the last ten years with victories over tonight’s opponents in 2011-12 and Bangor in 2014-15 accompanying last season’s Ballymena win.
The Glens are the second-most successful club in the tournament with 26 wins to Linfield’s 43, though it has been ten seasons since they lifted the trophy when they beat David Jeffrey’s Linfield side 3-1 in the 2010-11 season. Their last appearance in the Shield final was the following season in the aforementioned game against tonight’s opponents, losing 2-1.
This is not the first time these two sides have met this season, having faced off in the opening league fixture of the season just over two weeks ago. On that occasion, it was McLaughlin’s side who came out on top with Curran scoring the only goal of the game four minutes from time.
The Reds followed this up with a defeat in the North Belfast derby against Crusaders but returned to winning ways on Saturday past when goals from Maguire, Conor McMenamin, and Joe Gormley saw them come out 3-0 winners against Carrick. This promising start to the campaign leaves tonight’s hosts in fourth place in the table.
Mick McDermott’s side, on the other hand, have had a poor start to the season as that opening day defeat has been followed with a 1-1 draw against Glenavon and a 2-1 defeat against Coleraine, to make matters worse in their last two fixtures the Glens have dropped points against sides who were reduced to nine and ten men respectively.
Both sides have had strong cup campaigns in recent seasons with Glentoran enjoying success in the Irish Cup as recently as July and the Reds lifting both the Shield and League Cup a number of times in the last decade. Based on current form, most would favour a Cliftonville win but the Glens do have plenty of quality throughout their squad and are sure to come good eventually. Had the game been played in front of a normal Solitude crowd I might think differently, but for tonight’s game, I will back a narrow win for McDermott’s side and predict a 2-1 win for Glentoran.
Larne v Linfield (Tuesday 3rd November 2020, 19:45)
Both semi-finals are sure to be fascinating affairs but for the neutrals, this is definitely the more interesting of the two given both sides starts to their league campaigns.
Linfield and Larne currently sit first and second respectively with three wins from three in the league so far for both sides.
In the league, Tiernan Lynch’s Larne boys have enjoyed victories against Dungannon (3-0), Carrick (2-1), and most recently Ballymena (2-0) as well as wins against Ballyclare (2-0) and an impressive victory against Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders (4-0) in the first round and quarter-final of this tournament.
David Healy’s side comfortably beat PSNI (6-0) and Carrick (2-0) to reach the semi-final and have also had victories against Carrick (5-1), Ballymena (3-2) and Crusaders (2-1) in the league, making them the highest scorers in the league so far with ten goals scored. Larne incidentally are joint with Cliftonville in having the meanest defence with just one league goal conceded in the opening three league games of the season by the Inver Park side.
As mentioned previously, the South Belfast side are the most successful club in the competition’s history having lifted the Shield on no fewer than 43 occasions but they have not won it in three seasons since they beat Crusaders 3-1 in the 2016-17 season, they did return to the final two seasons later but lost 4-3 against the same opponents.
Larne, on the other hand, have never lifted the County Antrim Shield and their last appearance in the final was back in 1973-74 when they lost 2-1, again against Crusaders.
This game is a tough one to call given both sides have had such strong starts to the league, I could honestly see this one having to be decided by a penalty shootout (note that if either semi-final is level after 90 minutes the game will go straight to penalties with no extra time), but if I was pushed I will go for a 1-0 Linfield win.
That is it for today but we hope to have content out every day this week as we look ahead to a full Danske Bank Premiership programme this Saturday as well as the last day of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division on Sunday, on that note you can check out Keith’s latest League of Ireland (LOI) roundup HERE.