Coleraine look to be in the driving seat as they keep their unbeaten run intact with a draw away to the Glenavon. The champions lost points as they went down away to Ballymena United. The leagues bottom club – and the team in the worst run of form ‘Dungannon Swifts’, got a win at the hands of the predictable Crusaders.
Glenavon 1-1 Coleraine
The draw keeps the Bannsiders in second place. 25 games played – 50 points collected. Currently, they have two games in hand on the Blues. If they win them – they will be one point behind. Is it achievable? Of course, it is. This club is now on a 17-match unbeaten run. They have only had four draws in that run. They are the clear title challengers this season.
For Glenavon. They now sit in eighth after 25 games played collecting 35 points. It has been a real hit and miss March for Gary Hamilton’s men. Draws against Carrick Rangers and this one against the Bannsiders with defeats at the hands of Cliftonville, Glentoran and Portadown with a couple of wins thrown in there.
The Bannsiders had to work hard in this encounter to keep their long unbeaten run intact. The Lurgan Blues took the lead through Matthew Fitzpatrick mid-way through the second half. But it was the ever-green Stephen Lowry that got the equaliser with 15 minutes to go in the game.
I also would like to mention Conan Byrne who was on the bench for the Lurgan Blues. I listened to a great football coaching podcast just the other week and he was one of the guest speakers. Conan has been doing a lot of work in the background to helping young players get educated in Ireland, or drive them towards education through football. He does this as well as driving up and down from Dublin to kick a ball around even in his mid 30’s. A football man and he was great to listen to.
Ballymena United 1-2 Linfield
The first defeat in five games for the Blues, but they are still seven points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership. Sounds good, but the Bannsiders have two games in hand on them and if they win them, they will be one point behind. Rumblings of injuries and Shayne Lavery’s call up to the Northern Ireland senior squad are not excuses. This club has at least three payers that can play in every position. When you can still start with Waterworth, Cooper and Stewart, you are doing alright.
The Sky Blues now sit in seventh, joint with Crusaders who are in sixth place on 39 points. After this game, they have now put in an eight-match unbeaten run. I like the way David Jeffery is starting to build his team. He has brought in: Ryan Waide, Paul McElroy and Shay McCartan, to give them speed, drive and more ambition upfront. Josh Kelly in the middle of the park is just the type of midfield player any team would love to have. Young and dominates the midfield third, can tackle and can also make that killer pass. The future for the Sky Blues looks very bright indeed.
It wasn’t until the second half this game got the first goals. The Sky Blues breaking the deadlock through Conor Keeley. The Blues dusted themselves down and got an equaliser from the spot through Waterworth. But deep into time added on at the end of the game, the Sky Blues secured all three points through that man Keeley again.
Warrenpoint Town 1-2 Glentoran
After this encounter, Point have now gone five games without a win. Nevertheless, Barry Gray has his team set up – and in a shape to make it hard for teams to play against. This was always going to be a hard match for the Glens. Mick McDermott would be putting his coaching knowledge to the test in this encounter.
The win moves the Glens up to third position. They are now looking like a team that is going to be very hard to beat through the rest of this season. From the start of February, they have notched up nine wins and only three defeats. I can see the defeats disappearing as they continue their push towards that European spot. Seems that the heavy investment in our little multi-millionaire league is paying off.
Point got on the score sheet first through Adam Carroll. But within two minutes the Glens had drawn level through Conor McMenamin, from the penalty spot. He is turning out to be one shrewd signing by McDermott. With just under ten minutes to go – the Glens got the all-important second – and winning goal through Jay Donnelly.
Dungannon Swifts 2-1 Crusaders
Hats off to the Swifts and Dean Sheils. I enjoyed watching them play from front to back. Being positive and wanting to play through the thirds. It was encouraging to watch and see. Sheils was constantly asking his players to be positive and play, and press when he saw the opportunity. On the flip side, from the other dug-out, all that could be heard was play it long. The contrasts in a new coach with bright ideas.
Just to put this in context. Before this game, the Swifts had gone 10 games without a win. In that little run, they only managed one draw. That’s one point in 10 games. To say this should have been an easy three points for the Crues against the team in the last place is a little bit of an understatement.
For the Crues, it seems the board are happy with this seasons return. From the turn of the year, 16 games played: five wins, eight defeats and three draws. This from a club – and a team that is supposed to be in the middle of a five-year plan to conquer Europe. But I will keep this short. Abuse has been hurled at me over the last couple of years for identifying things that have started to go wrong. I sit with a smile as it all plays out. I identified only two seasons ago that the Crues had changed the back four, 26 times in one season. This has continued not just last season but this. You need a settled back four.
The tactic in this game was to give the ball to Rodney Brown, Jordon Owens would pull off to the opposite side, then the ball would go direct to Owens. This did not change the whole game. Until Adam Lecky was brought on, but I am not sure what changed. Shocking tactics to be fair. We need something more than this. The players need more than this. Stop missing the middle third out and start playing football. Stop blaming everyone else for the problems. The problems are clear to see. We need a change. Darren Murphy has been brought in, but I do worry it is not going to change anything. Will he be listened to? Probably not. Charlie Murphy was supposed to have retired. He is now back. Baxter looking to days before to try and get a winning formula.
The Swifts took a well-deserved lead through Callum Byers just before the break. Then it was Rory Patterson who unleashed a thunderbolt free-kick to make it two. He made his feelings known to the Crues bench when he scored. I am sure there are a few other players that have been released by the Crues, are still a little bitter towards Baxter.
The Crues got one back through Jamie McGonigle, but in all fairness, if the Swifts could have taken all their chances, this game would have been well over before the McGonigle got the consolation. No excuses for Stephen Baxter after this one. None at all!
Carrick Rangers 5-3 Portadown
What a game full of entertainment this must have been. Both these teams sit at the wrong end of the table. Rangers had gone 10 games without a win before this one then they produce a five-goal thriller and collect all three points.
The Ports have only claimed two wins in 2021 and there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in and around Shamrock Park for next season. Let’s face it, without any relegation this year they need to be using this to build for next year. That depends on whether the Championship is back and playing again next year. With our local government – you never know.
The goalscorers in this game. For Rangers: Daniel Kelly, Cathair Friel, Kyle Cherry, and two from top marksman Caolan Loughran. The Ports: Ben Gray, Lee Bonis, and Adam Salley.