Linfield maintained their good record against their big rivals Glentoran on Saturday. A 1-0 win was enough for the Blues to claim all three points as they continue to play catch-up on the rest of the league. The Crusaders maintain top spot with a narrow 3-2 win at home to Glenavon. The league’s bottom two teams did not disappoint this weekend. Warrenpoint Town lost 3-0 at home to Carrick Rangers and Institute after last week’s 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Crusaders, followed it up this week with a 4-1 defeat at home to Larne.
The National Stadium was the venue for the first ‘Big Two’ Belfast derby of the season between Linfield and Glentoran, with the Blues coming out as 1-0 winners through a late Kirk Millar goal. The Blues on paper have had the best of the recent head-to-heads between the two teams: last season the Blues won all three league games played against the Glens, scoring four goals in the two encounters at the National Stadium. A lot of hype had been made around the Belfast area due to the heavy financial backing the Glens have received, that this might just be the Glens’ day.
The all-important goal came late on. It began with a wonderful jinking run from Bastien Héry, who then found Kirk Millar on the edge of the box; Millar dropped the shoulder, beat the defender and found the bottom corner of the Glens net. A tight encounter and some weird and wonderful refereeing decisions. This became a common theme over the weekend, but Linfield still need to persevere even with another three points in the bag. The Glens, meanwhile, have defiantly turned a corner and will be a hard team to crack for any of the leagues’ top teams.
The League leaders Crusaders had the home advantage on Saturday as they entertained Glenavon and ran out 3-2 winners. This game was the tail of three penalty decisions. Personally, not one of them was a penalty and some terrible refereeing decisions were made in this game. The Lurgan Blues took the lead in the first minute when away midfielder Rhys Marshall got his head to a cross and finished. The Crues defence was still looking at the tactics board in the changing rooms when the goal went in. They had dropped 2 points at home to Larne because they let Larne into the game. If they keep doing this in more games, they will come a cropper. Next up away to in-form Coleraine, and they will need to be out the traps from the first whistle.
The Crues equaliser was a beauty. There were calls for offside but the acrobatic finish from Paul Heatley was something else. The Crues took the lead in the second half. A Jordon Forsythe header cannoned off the in-form midfield man Phillip Lowry into the net. The Lurgan Blues then were awarded a soft penalty when Howard Beverland was adjudged to have pushed Andrew Mitchell over in the box. Mitchell stepped up and converted the penalty. This time it was the turn of the Crues to get a soft penalty- Heatley was checked in the box. Up stepped substitute David Cushley who converted. How many times has Cushley pulled the Crues out of a hole? Why he never gets a run within the team, only the manager knows.
The Lurgan Blues had the chance to level the game up after an adjudged foul on Conor McCloskey. Up stepped Josh Daniels form the spot, only to see his shot saved by the Crues keeper Sean O’Neill. A win for the Crues and they now move six points clear of second-place Coleraine, who they play next week. This could prove to be a great game with Stephen Baxter and Oran Kearney locking heads for the first time this season.
The second derby game on Saturday saw Ballymena United take on unbeaten Coleraine. The game ran out a 1-1 draw with the Bannsider’s finishing the game with nine men. The Bannsiders got on the score sheet first through good work on the edge of the box by Eoin Bradley who got himself free, delivered a ball across into the box, where in-form striker James McLaughlin was on hand to fire home. This game took a turn for the worst when the Bannsiders’ captain Stephen O’Donnell got his marching orders for a second bookable offence, with the referee deciding that his foot was high and dangerous.
On the stroke of half-time, the Sky Blues were level. Scot Whitehouse getting his head to a corner and scoring against his old club to draw the game level. The second red card of the game came deep into the second half- Adam Mullan was shown a second yellow for bringing down Ross Lavery as he was played through on goal.
Dungannon Swifts’ good early form has truly gone out the window. Cliftonville were the visitors on Saturday and they inflicted a heavy 4-0 defeat on the Swifts. Gary Breen got the first for the Reds, getting on the end of a Levi Ives free-kick, controlling and finishing. The next for the Reds was from their top marksman Joe Gormley. He got on the end of a Ryan Curran cross to tap into the empty net. Curran then got himself on the score sheet to make it three. Gormley rounded off the scoring after being put through one on one with the Swifts keeper Sam Johnstone and finishing. The win moves the Reds into joint second place with the Bannsiders.
Another weekend and another heavy defeat for Institute. Larne were the visitors for this one and they came out as 4-1 winners. Things were looking good at last this week for Stute: six games in, with no manager, they announced the appointment of Sean Connor as their new manager. But what a job he has to do to try and turn this around. Two goals each for Jonathan McMurray and Martin Donnelly gave the Inver men a 4-0 lead. Larne were reduced to ten when keeper Conor Mitchell got his marching orders for bringing down Cormac Burke outside the box. Stute did get a consolation from the penalty spot, with Joe McCready stepping up and scoring.
Warrenpoint Town remains bottom off the table as they lost 3-0 to Carrick Rangers. Point have conceded in all six games they have played this season and have failed to score in five out of the six games they have played. Real problems here and not a job for the light-hearted. Stewart Nixon was the hero of the day scoring all three goals for the East Antrim outfit. The game was marred by a sending off for the Points Dermott McVeigh. But the win puts Carrick in ninth place.