What a weekend of football we have just witnessed. The Champions Linfield hosted Glenavon and turned them over in an emphatic 7-0 win. Talk about putting a statement of intent down! Their main rivals last season and league leaders this season, Crusaders, got themselves back to winning ways after last week’s disappointment. They entertained Glentoran who came away 5-2 winners. The basement battle between Warrenpoint Town and Institute saw Stute get a valuable 3-1 win.
Linfield entertained a Glenavon side that has failed to register a win this season away from home. And for me, and to everyone else’s surprise, this game ended up with the Blues battering the Lurgan Blues 7-0. The Blues are coming on strong- the last four games have all been won with no goals conceded. The Champions are well and truly back into the league cycle. The Blues got this off to a flyer, and it was that much-talked-about striker Shayne Lavery who bagged himself a quick-fire hat-trick to put the Blues well in control of this game.
The fourth came through one of the stand-out performers of the day, and probably the most technically gifted payer within the league, Bastien Héry. The Blues’ fifth came through the lively ex-Lurgan Blues player Joel Cooper. Gary Hamilton keeps going on about money and the lack thereof, but when you let talent like Cooper go to a rival for nothing, then you are your own worst enemy as well as showing no ambition.
Jimmy Callacher then got in on the action. The big stopper was in the right place at the right time when Cooper delivered an inch-perfect ball onto his head as Callacher did the rest. The seventh and last goal of the day came from Andrew Waterworth, who had gotten his head onto a cross to finish. A great day at the office and the Blues look a formidable team. The bench looks strong as well and it is going to take something special to strip the Gibson Cup from them come May.
The Glentoran steam train to the top was well and truly stopped on Saturday. Crusaders hosted them and sent them back to the opposite side of the City of Belfast on the end of a 5-2 defeat. The Crues went into the game with a much-changed team. I for one was a little nervous when I saw it. Once again, they changed it at the back. Howard Beverland came in for Sean Ward, and Gerard Doherty came in for Sean O’Neill in goal. Rory Hale was brought back into the midfield and after last weeks calamity against Coleraine, he should have never been dropped. Jordon Owens got the nod up top in place of summer signing Jamie McGonigle.
It was that man Owens that got the first of the afternoon. Ross Clarke who put in a man of the match performance, and turned Marcus Kane inside out all day, supplied the cross into the box where Owens was on hand to do what he does best- head the ball into the net. The second goal for the Crues was something special. Paul Heatley picked the ball up and unleashed a ferocious shot past Marijan Antolocvic. A lot of people have been questioning the keeper, but take nothing away for the strike, as it was really something else.
The Crues moved further ahead this time from the penalty spot after Patrick McClean was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. Billy Joe Burns stepped up and converted. The Crues have started to concede goals again: two goals in each of their last two games. And it was no surprise when they conceded. A Hrvoje Plum free-kick hit the post, bounced out to John Herron who volleyed home.
The Crues then moved further ahead. Ross Clarke danced past Kane, not for the first time on Saturday, dribbled the ball into the box then set up Owens to fire the ball high into the Glens net. Clarke topped off a wonderful afternoon by getting himself on the score sheet. His long-range shot went in at the near post. More big questions need to be asked about the Glens keeper Antolocvic. The Glens got a conciliation second, from a free-kick by Plum. If that is what the Glens are going to rely on to win games and score goals, it will end in tears. The Glens cannot just be reliant on one person scoring free-kicks week in, week out.
The league’s only unbeaten team Coleraine entertained, which must be said has been a disappointing Larne this season. This game finished in a 0-0 draw. I say “disappointing” for a reason. You can say it’s their first season etc., but when you are pumping money at the rate Larne did, you have to expect something. Last season’s thumping teams six-seven and making a joke of the division is over. There is a lot of tinkering with this squad and that could be a problem, with players in and players out of the squad. But that’s the problem you have if your squad is too big, and you’re trying to give players game time.
Larne had the opportunity to win this game. First Martin Donnelly was sent through, but couldn’t beat Chris Johns in the Bannsiders’ goals. Larne substitute Shane McEleney then fired over from close range. The Bannsiders nearly stole all three points late on but Aaron Jarvis’ speculative long-range effort cannoned off the crossbar. The Bannsiders remain in second place unbeaten and the men from Larne lie in eighth.
The Leagues’ bottom two clubs locked horns in this encounter on Saturday. Warrenpoint Town who lie in last place: eight games played, eight defeats with 26 goals conceded after this 3-1 defeat at home to second from bottom Institute. This was the tale of some horrible defending and goalkeeping on the part of the Point. Joe McCready put Stute one up. His shot was parried into his own net by the Point keeper Evan Moran. The Points’ captain Danny Wallace made a mistake by laying the ball off to McCready in the box. McCready made no mistake to put Stute two ahead. Wallace then got himself on the score sheet for the Point as he got his head on the end of a free-kick to nod home.
The last goal of the game came before half-time. An Aidan McCauley shot took a wicked deflection and went past Moran in the Point net to make the final scoreline 3-1 to Stute and a big, big three points. Where does this leave the Point? In a very dark hole. This is going to be one long season for the men from Co. Down. They might need to look to the League of Ireland and try and bring in some players on loan as their season there has just finished. But I really fear the worst here.
Dungannon Swifts got themselves back to winning ways beating Carrick Rangers 2-1. It has been a hard few weeks for the Swifts. A great start to the season with four wins, then a mini-meltdown. Three games on the bounce defeated but last week saw a change in fortune as they held out for a 0-0 draw away to Larne. Carrick has only two wins this season and they have come against Stute and the Point. They can count their chickens that the form of the latter two has been nothing but terrible.
Oisin Smyth got the first for the Swifts when he latched onto a cross to finish. The second came through Kris Lowe. He was in the right place at the right time to convert across at the back post. Rangers pulled a goal back through Lee Chapman. He jinked his way into the box and finished off well.
Last but not least, Ballymena United entertained Cliftonville at the Showgrounds and won 2-1. The Reds took the lead through Rory Donnelly. Joe Gormley put him through and Donnelly did the rest. The Sky Blues then got themselves level. Leroy Millar delivered a cross for Andy McGrory to finish from close range. The Sky Blues got the winner through an own goal. The Reds defender Jamie Harney tried to clear a McGrory cross, only to see it come back off Conor McDermott into the Reds net.