A week when Glentoran continued to ‘splash the cash’ in pursuit of the League title, it begs the question: can the rest the league cope with the money they have to burn? Yes, they say they are working within their financial budget. But I am sure that does not take into consideration the luxury apartments their foreign imports are living in. Also, to add to it, due to the Assembly starting back at Stormont, the grumblings about a new stadium can be heard again. Didn’t see that coming!
It is by right the Glens who have gone to the top of the table. Saturday saw them travel to lowly Institute and come away with a 2-0 win. Crusaders moved into the second spot with a strong win at home to Larne, and both Linfield and Cliftonville dropped points in the title race. The Reds went down away to Carrick Rangers and the Blues were only able to carve out a draw at home to Dungannon Swifts.
Institute 0-2 Glentoran
Fifteen games unbeaten! You can’t tell me the Glens do not deserve to be top of the table at this stage of the season. What a squad Mick McDermott is starting to assemble. He could probably field two squads at the minute and yet he cannot use the investment money until next season.
This week saw the Glens further strengthen their squad with the additions of Caolon Marron and Andrew Mitchell, both from Glenavon, while Calum Birneymoved in the opposite direction. Darren Murray also left the Glens this week, going out on loan to Carrick Rangers. For me, I was surprised at Marron – I was sure this kid would make the cut across the water, but just like Joel Cooper before him, Glenavon let him move onto another Irish League Club. Maybe he still will. As for the Glens, they have got themselves a real talent here.
It didn’t take the Glens long to take the lead. Navid Nasseri finished off a swift Glens’ counter-attack. The Glens’ second was scored by another debutant, Keith Cowan, who had already signed a pre-contract agreement after spending last season at League of Ireland side Finn Harps. He was in the right place to tap home one of the easiest finishes he could have expected. A great strong win for the Glens keeps them moving on. They have the momentum at the moment. It will take something special to stop them for the rest of this season.
Crusaders 3-0 Larne
I have been called out a few times for my downbeat writing of the Crues, but the facts are there: last season 55 goals against. A back four that was changed week in week out. This season it started again. A couple of injuries to a few stars at the club and we ended up with a makeshift centre-back pairing. But how that pairing has gelled together – four clean sheets in a row for the Crues. Now that is what they have been crying out for. A back four with a strong goalkeeper that the back 4 listen to. Roney Brown and Billy Joe Burns have just been something else playing in front of Ger Doherty, I just hope in the next few weeks this partnership does not get broken up.
The Crues came out with a game plan and it was to get at Larne from the start. Too often teams sit back against this Larne team, let them play football and control the game to their tempo. But the Crues were in no mood for that. The key for them was having the three disciplined midfield players in your face giving you no time on the ball, along with the potent strike force of Jordon Owens and Jamie McGonigle, with Owens flicking on and McGonigle driving forward.
The Crues took the lead early on from the penalty spot after Thomas Cosgrove was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. McGonigle stepped up and slotted the ball home under Conor Devlin in the Larne goal. The Crues were two up after 20 minutes. Jordan Forsythe delivered a cross into the box where who else but Owens was on hand to head home. The Crues then went three up. Owens flicked the ball into the path of McGonigle, who turned two defenders inside out to put an unstoppable shot into the Larne net.
This win puts the Crues into second spot and four clean sheets to go with it. Clean sheets have been the Achilles heel of the Shore Road men for too long. As for Larne, I am getting tired of the same old excuse: “we just weren’t at it.” The same excuse whether they play a team in the top half of the league, or one of the lower level teams. They remain in 6th– not good enough for a full-time team.
Carrick Rangers 1-0 Cliftonville
Not the greatest of weeks for the Reds. They were topping the League over the Christmas period. They started this week falling short against the Blues on Monday evening. Then once again have fallen short on Saturday in a match which, if they have any thoughts of winning the league title, they should be winning. For Carrick, another three points on the board and what a great season in the top flight they are having. Better than the last look they had when they went straight back down.
The winner for Carrick came though substitute Lloyd Anderson. I was amazed that the Crues let this kid go at the end of the season, he is definitely a talent and one to keep your eyes out for. The Reds couldn’t deal with a Carrick corner and, with his back to goal, Anderson delivered the perfect finish to give the men from Carrick all three points.
Linfield 0-0 Dungannon Swifts
A boring draw here in this fixture. The Blues huffed and puffed all afternoon but couldn’t break down a resolute Swifts. The Blues will not be happy with this result, especially as the Swifts have had only one win in the last thirteen games. They should be beating teams like this if they are serious contenders for the league title.
What a week it has been for the Blues. They moved top of the lot with a win against title rivals Cliftonville last Monday. Only to end up with a draw against relegation-threatened Swifts. Is there a lack of desire and determination at the National Stadium? Players just turning up thinking they can win games because they play at the big stadium with the big facilities. If that’s the mindset, it’s going to be an interesting few weeks ahead.
Warrenpoint Town 0-4 Coleraine
Point remains at the bottom of the tree after this heavy defeat at the hands of the Bannsiders. Last time the two met at Milltown, Point ran out as the surprise winners. Well, the Bannsiders were in no mood for upsets on Saturday. Jamie Glackin, a player starting to show the potential he has after a terrible spell at the Crues, weighed in with a hat-trick. Matthew Fitzpatrick, with his first start for the club, then got the fourth. A good strong showing from Oran Kearneys’ men letting the others know they are still in the title fight.
Ballymena United 0-3 Glenavon
I was surprised when I saw the team sheets here to see Jude Winchester sitting on the bench for the Sky Blues. To be honest I was surprised by the whole team selection. For me, it was just not strong enough. I get that injuries have been a problem, but at home against a team that is at sixes and sevens at the minute, they should have been capitalising. Were they thinking of saving players for the Co. Antrim Shield final in mid-week? If so, that has to be the most terrible piece of ambition shown by one of the league’s top clubs.
Conan Byrne fired the Lurgan Blues into the lead through a deflected free-kick. Number two came from the man that I have been talking about and I don’t even delve into the Amateur league, Daniel Purkis. That’s two in two games for the former East Belfast man. New signing Greg Moorhouse rounded off the scoring for the Lurgan Blues, and a valuable three points. They still have sixth-place Larne in their sights now. What an achievement that would be to take that spot of them before the league splits.