Danske Bank Premiership

Two Belfast derbies screened live, a Stephen Murray hat-trick has Glenavon stay top, Ballymena return home, and Dungannon move to the bottom.

Ards 0-1 Institute

It was a low scoring, tight affair down at the Co Down seaside, where Ards took on an Institute side still probably shocked at what happened at the hands of Crusaders last weekend. The Crues showed them how the league can be very harsh, to say the least. Ards have hit a mini-slump after having gone so long without conceding they now have lost two on the bounce. Colin Nixon will be working hard with his backroom staff to get the team back to the vision he has for them.

The game was won with two mins of injury time played at the end of the game. A low key game with not much to get excited about. Both teams are needing to collect as many points as physically possible. David McCallister had what you could say were the best chances of the first half. His first saw his header denied by Martin Gallagher and the other was a shot fired wide of the target. The second half again saw little, if any chances. Best of them coming for Institute. Both Jonah Mitchell and Michael McLellan firing over the target. Then it was the turn of Institute’s top goal scorer, Michael McCrudden, to have a go. His deflected effort went wide. With two mins of injury time played, Jarvis turned the ball into the net past Samuel Johnston to give Ards all the points.

Not a great game for the spectator here but both teams will be looking for stability. They will be looking to stay in the top fight and compete. All points collected no matter how they get them will do for both clubs, which will help them build on for the future.

Crusaders 3-2 Cliftonville

Friday evening saw the first of the Danske Bank Premiership game’s screened on BBC Northern Ireland. If you listen to the mutters in the stands, fans have been asking why more is not done to promote the game. Hats off to the BBC, great coverage and I think they picked the perfect game to get it underway.

Both the North Belfast clubs are having an indifferent start to the league campaign. A win in the first derby game of the season would go a long way to gaining some momentum for either of these North Belfast rivals.

This game had it all, fight, passion, goals, and incident but no red cards, not your typical North Belfast Derby. The Crues should have taken the lead after six mins. Wonderful work from Rory Patterson who unselfishly found Paul Heatley who in turn hit his shot over. The Reds broke the deadlock on 14 mins. You can talk about it week in, week out when is a deliberate handball a handball. When you make a move towards the ball you are playing with fire. Colin Coates, when having a look, will see the movement he made with his arm was enough for the referee to point to the spot. Up stepped Joe Gormley. Now if you take into consideration Joe just loves to score against the Crues. Ten Goals in seven games against the Shore Road men says it all. This from the man that nearly signed on the dotted line but whatever made him change his mind, Stephen Baxter will only know. Calm and composed Gormley fired an unstoppable penalty into the roof of the net to become Cliftonville’s all-time top goalscorer on 172.

Once again the Crues finishing was something you would expect to see at the Grove Park on a Saturday afternoon. This time it was Jordan Owens to fire over from around six yards out. The Crues plugged away and got the equaliser on 42 mins. A long ball was flicked on by Owens into the path of Patterson. Patterson ran one on one with Richard Brush and made no mistake. The Crues took the lead on 55 mins from a Ross Clarke free kick. Take nothing away from the free kick but Barry Gray should be asking questions of his keeper. In this lively derby match, the Reds got themselves back level. What can only be described as a lapse in concentration, saw Jordan Owens nudge Garry Breen in the box. The referee had no hesitation to point to the spot. Up stepped Gormley to smash another penalty into the net. The Reds looked the more likely team to win this encounter. But two mins into injury time, Rory Patterson released a shot which Brush saved only to see Jordan Owens follow up to give the Shore Road men the win. 

A great night of football and a special well done to Joe Gormley. Pundits debating if he is one of the best finishers in the league. Well in my time watching Irish League football, we have had many, Garry McCartney (192), Glenn Ferguson (285), Vinny Arkins (179), Martin McGaughey (317), and Glen Hunter (157), to name a few and I could go on but Joe is proven he is up there with the best.

 Ballymena Utd 3-0 Newry

Into October and at last Ballymena have made it home. It has been a long wait as they have been playing all their games away. The pitch looks in great condition compared to last season. In my own personal eyes over the last few seasons, it has been the worst I have seen in the league.

Great weather and a lush looking pitch, it took Ballymena 12 mins to take the lead. Leroy Millar picked up a blocked shot on the edge of the Newry box and fired an unstoppable shot into the net. A great start for the Braid men. Into the second half and it was over to Ballymena striker Cathair Friel. A ball into the box was only half cleared by a Newry defender. The ball came out to Richard Lecky who turned the Newry defender inside out, only to see his shot blocked. But the ball fell to the feet of Friel who turned it into the net. Then it was three. Great work down the Ballymena right by Jonathan McMurray. He took on three defenders, got the ball across the box where the initial shot was stopped by a great tackle. The ball fell to Andrew McGroary who finished of the goal scoring and the match for Ballymena.

A great return home for the Braid men. It has been a stop-start to the season. Now they are home and with a very good support behind them, they will be hard to beat at the Showgrounds. Newry are still finding their feet in the league and will hope to bounce straight back of this defeat sharpish.

Coleraine 1-4 Glenavon

What a team Gary Hamilton has moulded. Just like him when he was a player, he just walked effortlessly through games in the Irish League. He has his team playing free fast flowing football and they are a joy to watch at the minute. Coleraine are still trying to get some sort of a consistency together.

Coleraine got this encounter off to the perfect start. Great work by Darren McCauley saw him put a looping ball into the box where it was met by the head of Aaron Burns. Burns obliged and did the rest. It took Glenavon all of seven mins to get back into the game. A free-kick from Andy Mitchell caused all sorts of problems in the Coleraine box. Andy Hall got himself in front of Chris Johns to flick a header on to the back post. Standing there with all the freedom of the North Coast was Rhys Marshall to tap in the equaliser. On 32 mins Stephen Murray got the first goal of his hat trick. Once again some absolutely diabolical defending from Coleraine. The ball was crossed in from the right to the back post where Murray headed home. Now there is route one football and this was perfect route one football. From a Coleraine attack, Glenavon cleared a long ball forward. Two flick on’s later and Stephen Murray was off like a greyhound out of the traps. The Coleraine defence couldn’t catch him and the man of the moment showed wonderful composure finished perfectly. Murray completed the hat trick on 68 mins. This was a matter of saving the best for the last. A free kick by Jonny Tuffy was flicked onto the feet of Murray. His first touch took him away from the Coleraine defender perfectly to set himself up. Once again with composure, he picked his spot and finished. 

What an afternoon for the boys from Lurgan. Going away from home, sitting in and hitting the opposition where it hurts. On this form, they will be hard to beat and now they have a little bit of momentum they will be hard to stop. 

Uninspiring, spiritless, dull that was my assumption of Coleraine was today. Where has the high flying team from last season gone? If they defend like that every week this will be a long long season ahead. This Coleraine team is too good, too strong and definitely can do better. Some long nights ahead for Rodney McAree and he will be earning every penny of that full-time contract he signed.

Dungannon Swifts 0-1 Warrenpoint Town

So two wins and two draws have seen Warrenpoint come into some sort of form. This win today saw them jump above Dungannon but there are only two points between the three clubs at the bottom.

Now after being a follower of Irish league football for going on 35 years. I am sure Kris Lindsey would have been seething with the first goal. Kris was a man mountain at the back and would have played alongside some great defenders. Today as a coach to watch the way his team gave away the first goal on two mins must have put 20 years on him. A simple back pass to Dungannon goalkeeper Alex Moore saw him play the ball to the feet of Ciaran O’Connor. Now the bright green shirt that O’Connor was wearing must have been the perfect indication he played for the opposition. But credit to O’Connor who settled himself beat the defender and put the ball past Moore to give the visitors the lead. Dungannon had the opportunity to equalise when a free kick hit the Point wall. Referee Tony Clark straight away pointed to the spot. Daniel Hughes stepped up and missed. A good save from Aaron McCarey who got down well to the corner. So all the best drama of the game was saved to 84th min. Great strong work down the left by O’Connor saw him brought down by David Armstrong. Armstrong received his second booking of the game and was sent to the stands. From the resulting penalty, O’Connor stepped up and struck the post but followed up to score. 

Nice day at the office and Warrenpoint who are now off the bottom being replaced by Dungannon. This is going to be a long season for both teams and as many points that they can collect is a must.

 Glentoran 0-1 Linfield

Monday night saw Belfast Big Two, Big Two or El Belfastico whatever the name it goes by in around the streets of Belfast, screened live on Sky Sports.

The game started as we as Irish League followers knew it would. Fast, physical with two teams full of passion playing in front of two sets of eager fans. The wind at The Oval is always a joy to behold when taking in a game there was causing all sorts of problems for both sets of players. It was Linfield who broke the deadline on 15 mins. Once again this week Joel Cooper had a big park to play in it. Cooper went past defender after defender with ease. Then, he released the ball to Michael O’Connor who finished past Elliot Morris. To think O’Connor was nearly a Glentoran player at the start of the season. At the break, David Healy was having a stiff word in referee Arnold Hunter’s ear about challenges, but this is what we should be expecting from this fiery Belfast derby. Passion, fight, desire what every Irish League fan wants to see. Into the second half and an injury to young Joel Cooper on 49 mins. Linfield will be wishing him a speedy recovery as he has been the outstanding performer in their team. Glentoran had the first opportunity of the second half Curtis Allen headed wide form a corner. On 60 mins Linfield claimed a penalty. Jamie Mulgrew had his shot charged down by Willie Garrett. The ball hit Garrett on the arm as he put his body on the line to block, and a penalty would have been harsh. The Glens had another good opportunity. This time Curtis Allen got himself onto the end of a Ross Redman corner only to head over. Glentoran skipper Marcus Kane was next to have an effort blocked this time by Roy Carroll. Linfield’s best chance of the second half fell to O’Connor. A Naill Quinn pinpoint cross into the box was just too far for O’Connor to reach. Maybe when he looks back at it he will wonder why he didn’t go with his head. The Glens continued to push for the all-important equaliser but it was Linfield who stood firm to claim the win.

Another win for the Blues and that makes it two goals scored against them in 10 games. It is there to see the way they have been drilled and set up is to contain teams. The spine is now there and it will be hard to break this Linfield team down this season. The Glens gave a good account of themselves tonight. They have got stronger and are in a better place than they were last year.

So the Blues move to within one point of the leaders Glenavon. I am sure Gary Hamilton has his eyes on what is going on behind him as the challengers are mounting up their assault.