Another pulsating week of Irish League football and I hope I am not alone thinking “this is going to be one of the hardest fought, exciting seasons we have seen for a long time”. This week Crusaders stayed on top, with a 2-2 home draw against Larne. A tactical change from the Crues saw two points dropped at home. Joining them at the top are Dungannon Swifts. They have climbed level on points with the Crues after seeing off Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon 2-1. Glentoran registered their first league win and what a way to do it! 2-1 away win at Ballymena United.
I first need to touch on the standard of the referring. On this platform I can have my say and voice my opinion and that I will do. Tim Marshall, a UEFA-qualified standard referee, today took charge of the big game of the day between Crusaders and Larne, and in fairness put on a terrible showing. The one topic I will touch on is one of the rules that has changed and the one little rule this UEFA qualified referee got wrong. It clearly states that “if the ball hits the referee in open play, the game gets stopped. The ball then goes back to the team that had it before it hit him. It can be very unfair if a team gains an advantage or scores because the ball hit a match official last”. Well, today this happened to Larne, well not the scoring part, but the miss understanding of the rule by an official. Marshall did not even realise who hit the ball last when it hit him and gave the ball back to the Crues. His fourth official was right in front of it. Did he tell him? Maybe he did but because Marshall has the big UEFA badge on his chest did he just ignore the advice of his fourth official? Seems the officials really need to get some practice in themselves with keeping up with the game and learning the new rules.
Over to the action and I begin my round-up at Seaview. Newly promote Larne were the visitors today for Crusaders and the game played out a 2-2 draw. I have been complementary of the Crues lately. Three games, three clean sheets. But today a defensive howler which had all the resemblance of last season seen them off. Stephen Baxter has started the season on fire but for some reason, today at home, changed his formation and the team’s mentality to try and contain Larne. Why is the question? The first mistake was the three at the back. Colin Coates is not the ball-playing centre half that should be anchoring the back three. That is a given! A great defender in his own right, but not in that back three. Ross Clarke gets dropped. Three goals he has contributed but still got pulled. Then we have the issue of playing the 5-3-2 formation. You need to go through the phases. The Crues have the players to do it, but they just kept lumping the ball forward. Albert Watson was just too switched on for the ball over the top time and time again.
The Crues got off to the perfect start. They should have been two or three up before Phillip Lowry bundled in the first. Larne then missed a penalty before they got level. Colin Coates had nowhere to hide on this. He had all the time in the world to put his head on the ball but, for a slack moment, he took his eye off the ball as it bounced through into the path of Johnny McMurray who did the rest. His goal celebration has a lot to be desired… was that the jig he did when Kenny Bruce paid him his signing-on fee? Larne then took the lead through a beautiful finish from Sean Graham. It took Colin Coates to go off injured before Baxter actually changed his tactic and went back to a front three. Pace power and directness that saw substitute David Cushley fire in from long range.
Only four games in and the surprise package of the league Dungannon Swifts have moved into joint top spot. Today they ran out 2-1 winners against Glenavon. Michael Carvill was the first to open the scoring. Popping up in the box to direct the ball goal-ward. The ex-Linfield and Crusaders midfielder might just be one of the shrewdest signings they have made over the summer. The Swifts doubled their lead through a wonderful Mark Patton finish. The Swifts were reduced to 10 men when Alan Teggart was dismissed for a bad challenge. You cannot go over the ball and through the player. The much talked about Rhys Marshall got a goal back for Glenavon. Where will he be playing his football come January is the question? Gary Hamilton I am sure will be blaming the Crues for this defeat. The money other clubs are spending should be worrying him because this could be a season to forget if they don’t start becoming more consistent.
Glentoran got their first win of the season as they travelled to Ballymena United and came away with a 2-1 win. This got a bit ill-tempered. David Jeffery and Mick McDermott getting into a confrontation on the touchline, which seen the latter sent to the stands. Personally United played right into the Glens hands getting involved in all the excitement. The Sky Blues took the lead through an Andy McGrory free-kick. The Glens keeper for me is looking like the weak link in the team. Marijan Anolovic has not been the safest between the sticks in the first few games.
The Glens turned this game upside down late on through two goals from the ever-impressive Robbie McDaid. He was on hand to finish off two great opportunities to give the Glens their first win. You could see the relief in the playing staff and the back-room staff at the end as they celebrated as if it was the last day of the season. A good win and three points on the boards
Last two games saw Cliftonville beat Carrick Rangers 1-0 at Taylors Avenue. A strike from captain Chris Curran was enough to seal all three points for the North Belfast outfit. Coleraine and Institute played out a scoreless 0-0 draw. The only real talking point of the game was the red for Eion Bradley. His game is: either he will get sent off or a defender will. Big, strong and powerful that likes to mix it up. For Oran Kearney, what a difference a week makes. The highs of going to Belfast and defeating Linfield, to come home and register a 0-0 draw against struggling Stute. That’s progress right there!