July – October 2017
Danske Bank Premier League
We’ve had a much better start to the season than I could have anticipated. Ten points from the first five matches isn’t bad but in truth it looks better than it was. Institute and Ards are bottom half teams and we scraped both of those wins. The loss to Crusaders was a wake up call that made me switch from an initial 4-5-1 to the 4-4-1-1 that we’ve settled on. The 3-0 win over Dungannon Swifts is really when everything started clicking and it kicked off a nice little six match unbeaten run.
In the middle of this stretch came our first big derby match, away to Linfield. The Belfast’s Big Two, as the derby is known, comes from Glentoran and Linfield being the two largest and most successful clubs in the city. Both have been in the league since it first started in 1890 and have contested more cup finals than any other two clubs in the country. Linfield have certainly been the bigger team as of late, having not finished outside of the top three since the 2002-2003 season. Super sub Kevin Amuneke started our derby legacy off brilliantly, coming on for a brace in the last 15 minutes and a big away win.
Losing to Ballinamallard United ended our run and made me take note of a disturbing tactical development. Since the loss to Crusaders and the change of tactics, we’d only really struggled against teams we shouldn’t be. This has led to more experimentation when coming up against teams content to sit back. A home draw with Ards further illustrates the point, but smashing Carrick Rangers on the return makes me thing we’re onto the solution.
County Antrim Shield
Northern Ireland has quite a few cups, it must be said. The board don’t care about any of them, but to me silverware is silverware. The semi-final provided a more nail-biting second derby match-up, going all the way to penalties before Elliot Morris saved the last two to become a hero. The final would hold a rematch with the first team to beat us this year, Crusaders.
We started off the match very well with Ruairi Croskery (more on him in a minute) beating the keeper with a header from the edge of the area off a free kick. Just as we passed the hour mark a sloppy tackle near our own area rolled a loose ball right into the path of Cushley to equalize. My plan was to sub off the youngster Craig Faulkner after the goal but I changed my mind at the last minute. He’d been so close with his free kicks all day. Just a little more time, I reckoned, and he’d get it dialed in. Four minutes later, Faulkner breaks the deadlock with a free kick cannon smashed into the crossbar and across the line. Occasionally that little voice a manager hears in their mind is right and a miracle happens. Calum Birney headed a third in from a corner after three more minutes and we never looked back.
Two matches and two easy wins so far in the league cup. Our next match is a quarter final match-up against Warrenpoint Town in the league below us. They’ve already had the draw for the semi final, which puts the winner of our match up against another lower league opponent in Dundela. Barring any major disasters this should be an easy road to our second cup final of the season.
I really wish I could take credit for this player. A new signing this year, he was already here when I arrived in July. A former Manchester United youth trainee, he came in on a free from Championship side Warrenpoint Town. Without a doubt our first choice striker, he’s grabbed 14 goals in 19 games so far this season across three competitions. Four more league goals than his previous season in seven less appearances coupled with plenty of room to grow could lead to a promising future with the club.
Hair and Mustache Watch
If you crossed Christiano Ronaldo with Sam Elliot, you’d get John Taggart. This lad is sixteen and has a fuller mustache than most grown men. He’s also a decent left back prospect, so there’s a chance he’ll actually be seen again.
This team has just blown me away so far. I expected to struggle to find a formation to accommodate our very unbalanced squad depth. Instead the players have hit the ground running with a control/counter 4-4-1-1 and already have claimed a cup. We’re one point off our rivals in first place and have two derby wins already. With a bit over half of the season still left to play a shot at the Europa League next season doesn’t look out of the question. Tune in next time to see how the winter is progressing and find out if we make any moves in January.