Could this season get any more unpredictable? Who will be in pole position come the end of the season? It has been an indifferent first half to the season, only for it to take another twist. Crusaders leapfrog Coleraine and Cliftonville, if only on goal difference, to go top with a 6-1 win away to struggling Dungannon Swifts. Coleraine for the second away game in a row come away on the end of a defeat at the hands of Institute, and Cliftonville’s great run of eight games undefeated has come to an end after Glentoran were just too strong in a 2-0 defeat.
Dungannon 1-6 Crusaders
What a team of riches Stephen Baxter has at his disposal. We have been crying out for weeks for a little bit of stability and continuity in the team selection. Has he too many players at his disposal? Well yes, he has. Hopefully, come January he trims the squad back and those players that stand week in week out in the fire escape at the McDonald centre move on – that way some money from wages can be freed up and used to help fix up the broken stadium seats.
The Crues have come along quietly. Not some of the most inspiring performances, but they have been collecting points as they go. Eyebrows were raised when they were bold and signed Jamie McGonigle, but he has started to show his worth.
As for Dungannon Swifts, this defeat makes it eight games without a win. The other problem they have is they are two points ahead of Institute who sit in the relegation playoff slot and have hit a little bit of form that should get them out of trouble. Topped with bottom club Warrenpoint Town starting to pick up points, things here need to change quickly.
The Swifts started this one brightly and got themselves off to the perfect start by taking the lead. Dougie Wilson with a marvellous curling effort from the edge of the box. The Crues got themselves back on level terms. McGonigle flicked the ball on into the path of Paul Heatley whose shot deflected off Ross Redman into the net to make it all square.
Whatever the manager had said to the Crues at half-time worked and they came out firing. In an eight-minute spell, they were 4-1 up with goals from Ross Clarke, Phillip Lowry, and Howard Beverland. Then McGonigle stepped forward and had two goals in quick succession. The first was just magical – a superb curling effort beating substitute keeper Conner Byrne. Then McGonigle rounded off the scoring with a free-kick that Byrne could not keep out.
Institute 2-0 Coleraine
Institute will take this and more. Things are looking bright and after the new management team took charge, results have started to come with it. A 2-0 win at home to one of the leagues’ leading teams: Coleraine for the second away game on the bounce find themselves on the wrong side of a defeat. Worryingly, it is against another team at the wrong end of the table. Have they got what it will take to win the league this season? Their home form is certainly impressive, as every team that visits the Showgrounds finds it an intimidating place to visit, but also one of the most uneven playing surfaces in the league.
Stute took the lead after an Evan Tweeds free-kick was flicked into the Bannsiders’ net by Shaun Leppard. The best was yet to come. Bannsiders keeper Chris Johns’ clearance went straight to Shane McNamee. McNamee found Garth Brown who looked up and saw Johns out of his area. From all of 40 yards Brown fired a shot towards goal and into the net. Johns maybe would have got back in time but instead, he stumbled and fell in trying.
Sean Connor has come into Stute, changed the mindset and turned it around. They are moving the right way and if they keep this form up, they will be clear of safety sooner rather than later. As for the Bannsiders, it’s a mini blip which a manager like Oran Kearney will sort out and fix.
Cliftonville 0-2 Glentoran
What a difference a week makes. The Reds were sitting top of the league, if only on goal difference, and with the tightest defence before Saturday’s game. But Mick McDermott had other things on his mind. He put in a tactical master class to contain and defeat the Reds and keep the in-form Reds’ striker Joe Gormley quiet. The win for the Glens keeps them in fifth place, three points behind their big rivals Linfield. But the Blues have two games in hand on the Glens.
The Glens stamped their authority on this game from the off and with four minutes gone, they were 1-0 up. The Reds’ keeper Richard Brush was beaten to the ball by the Glens’ captain Marcus Kane. Kane poked the ball across the goal where Cameron Stewart was on hand to tap the ball home.
The Glens doubled their lead in the second half as Chris Gallagher fired low into the bottom corner of the Reds’ net. The Glens were reduced to 10 men in 80 minutes when Hrvoje Plum was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Linfield 1-0 Larne
The Blues maintain their push to the top and still have two games in hand on the league leaders, and are only 2 points behind. Larne have been drawn against all the top teams and just can’t get a win against them. They could probably feel hard done by here but that’s why the Blues are champions. They’re going to be a hard nut to crack this season, and if anyone can take the Gibson Cup off them, it will be an achievement.
The only goal of the game came four minutes from time. A long free-kick from the Blues into the Larne box eventually found Robinson who poked it home. Larne felt aggrieved as Mark Stafford collided with Larne keeper Conor Devlin, but the goal stood.
Carrick 6-2 Glenavon
Did I expect this? Not a chance and that is taking nothing away from Carrick. I thought “yeah they can do this”, but wasn’t expecting six. What is going on in the Glenavon changing room? Has Gary Hamilton got the changing room onside or is there something else going on? How can any team get themselves up to beat the Blues at home only a few weeks back, then turn in a performance like this? It has been coming for Carrick. They have just not had the rub of the green. In the last two games against Coleraine and Crusaders, they were just unlucky and will feel hard done by. This win puts them above Glenavon and into seventh.
Carrick got off to a great start. Stewart Nixon linked with Gerard Thompson who applied the finish. The Lurgan Blues got back on level terms on the 25 minute mark. Aaron Harmon picked the ball up on halfway and drove forward before unleashing a shot past Carrick’s keeper Aaron Hogg into the net. Five minutes before half-time, Carrick were back in front. This time Nixon unleashed a shot past Tuffey into the Lurgan Blues net.
Into the second half and what a start. Straight from the kick-off, the Lurgan Blues didn’t deal with the long ball, and Carrick forward Guillaume Keke latched onto it firing a shot home to make it 3-1. Carrick pushed on and through goals from James Ferrin, Lee Chapman, and Micheal Smith saw Carrick push into a 6-1 lead. The Lurgan Blues got a second late on through Josh Daniels, but this was just not good enough. From the bench to the 11 that started, they need to take a good long hard look at themselves because this performance was just not acceptable.
Warrenpoint Town 2-1 Ballymena United
No wins now in 10 games for Ballymena which makes for horrible reading for David Jeffery. This team is better than this and really needs to start picking up points sooner rather than later. Warrenpoint couldn’t buy a win but now have their second in as many games and the appointment of Barry Gray has been the breath of fresh air they needed.
Point took the lead when an Anto Reilly free-kick was punched clear by Ross Glendenning only to the head of Emmet Bennett who headed home from all of 20 yards. Two minutes later and the Point were two ahead. This time it was great work from Alan O’Sullivan who laid the ball to the on-rushing Brandon Doyle, who fired home to make it 2-0
The Sky Blues got a lifeline before the interval. Tony Kane was on hand to score, but it was not enough to spur them on and push for the equaliser. Another loss and a clear drop in form from last seasons surprise packet.