What a weekend for Irish league football. I think everyone’s £12.00 entry fee this weekend was well worth it. Oran Kearney took his Coleraine team to the National Stadium to take on the champions Linfield. No one saw this coming! A 4-2 victory for Kearney and his men. Larne have now truly had a reality check, as it has been them humiliating teams of a more mediocre stature than them. Well, this is the Irish league with some wise old heads around it. And none more than Ballymena United’s David Jeffery. He set his team up that well they put four goals past Larne in a 4-2 win. The first North Belfast derby between Cliftonville and Crusaders saw the Crues come away with a 2-0 win and their 100% record in tack.
I will start my round-up at the top. Forget the teams with the investment. Forget Larne. The media are driving the Larne hype forward everywhere else. But get down to business with the Champions Linfield. What a start to the season they are having in Europe. But is it taking its toll already? They entertained Oran Kearney’s Coleraine and ended up on the wrong side of a 4-2 defeat. The Bannsiders started this game like a steam train and got themselves into a 3-0 lead. Last season you wouldn’t even have considered a team going to the national stadium and scoring three… never mind four.
Ben Doherty kicked off the scoring before what can only be described as a bizarre own goal from Ryan McGivern. The Bannsiders then went further ahead when captain Stephen O’Donnell headed in. This kicked the blues into a little bit of a reveal. Joel Cooper pulled one back then ’man of the moment’ for the Blues Shayne Lavery made it 3-2. But it was that man McGivern who’s day went from bad to worse as he got his marching orders for a second bookable offence. The Bannisders sealed the win when debut boy Emmett McGuckin made it four, to secure all three points for the men from the North.
In North Belfast, it was the first of many derby’s this season between Cliftonville and Crusaders. The Crues claimed all three points in this one with a 2-0 win. Solitude is a hard place to go and get a win, but Stephen Baxter has started to set his team up to beat teams. Today he cut off the supply to the deadly front line of the Reds. The Crues are going to be a hard nut to crack this season… three games, three clean sheets. What a transformation. If you take a look at the Crues bench: Brain Strain, Paul Leeman and Jeff Speirs. All leaders, all winners, all centre-halves and all team Captains. What a wealth of knowledge Baxter has at his disposal within his backroom staff.
The first goal of the game didn’t come until the second half, but when it did it came from the head of Jordon Owens. Scrappy to say the least but a goal is a goal. The Crues doubled their lead through Paul Heatley. Three wins from three for the Crues and they sit top of the pile after week 3.
To Larne. The most overhyped thing around the league in decades. They half walked into the league having demolished all in front of them in the Championship. They got a rude awaking to the Danske Bank Premiership on Saturday when they faced up to last season’s runners up Ballymena United, and lost 4-2. They will not get it all their own way. And there seems to be a little bit of arrogance from them towards other teams. There are teams that have been together a while. Players that have been around this league for a while, not stuck in the lower leagues around England. It is not an easy league to adapt to.
The Sky Blues got the first of the day through an absolute peach from Johnny Addis. From his own half, he smashed the ball home. Mark Randall got Larne back on level terms. But it was the Sky Blues who were next to strike. Andy McGrory nipped in at the back post to make it two for the Sky Blues. Then step up Cathair Friel. A wonderful finish from the edge of the box of the outside of his foot. Better than that, Jude Winchester was next to put Conor Devlin on his back with what can only be described as pure class. He smashed the ball high into the top of the net. Larne got a second through Johnny McMurray, but it was all too little too late.
Time and patience are needed at the Oval. Glentoran travelled to Dungannon Swifts on Saturday looking for their first win. But the Swifts have had a great start to the season seven points from nine and were in no mode to change their ways, running out 3-1 winners. It is going to take patience for the Glens. There has been investment, but there are things to fix off the field not just on. Curtis Allen, for me one of the best finishers in the league, sitting on the bench again can’t be good. But the Glens seem to think they can cope without him.
Summer signing Dylan King opened the scoring with a wonderful long-range effort for the Swifts. Then it was the turn of on-loan Linfield striker Ryan Strain to make it two. You could tell by his celebration he enjoyed that goal. Captain Seanan Clucas then converted a penalty to make it 3-0. The Glens got a late consolation through Paul O’Neill.
Struggling Institute welcomed newly-promoted Carrick Rangers to the Brandywell where Carrick ran out 2-0 winners. I say struggling, because even at this early stage if Stute doesn’t sort out the manager problem they have they will be in a bad place come Christmas. Goals from James Ferrin and Mark Kelly were enough to give Carrick all three points. But the game was marred by two sending offs. Aaron Jarvis (who is still seeing interest from the Bannsiders) got his marching orders for two reckless challenges. Then it was the turn of Carricks Abi Sanusi to see red. Good win for Carrick, just what the doctor ordered.
Glenavon got back to winning ways after Tuesday’s night defeat to Cliftonville, with a 2-0 home win against struggling Warrenpoint Town. Sammy Clingan once again scored from the penalty spot to give the Lurgan Blues the lead. Then it was the turn of top marksman Andrew Mitchell to wrap the game up.