Danske Bank Premier League
April 21, 2018
Here we are. Linfield have come to the Oval for our fourth meeting of the season. They’ve brought over 1,200 supporters with them, helping to set our season high attendance of nearly 4,700. There’s a light drizzle falling as the players take the pitch. All we need is a draw to secure our first league championship since 2009. We fought the first half of the season to keep up with Linfield as jump them in the table and the second half to stay ahead of them. The season series stands at two wins for us and a draw. It’s time.
Jay Magee returns to center back as Aaron Smyth returns from a concussion. Aside from that we’re unchanged from our sort of late season starting 11. Kane is still going to be a big miss on the left side, providing plenty of goals and assists from the wing. Redman has 0 goals and 2 assists in 9 starts and 9 appearances off the bench.
I’ve gone with our standard counter attacking strategy that’s worked wonders in the derby so far. The opening minutes are tense, neither side willing to play risky from the start. Just after fifteen minutes tick by, Lindfield star AMC Andrew Mitchell brings the ball into our third and sends a pass out to his left winger, Ross Clarke. As Clarke gets the ball and drives toward the corner of the penalty box, Mitchell charges through the 18 yard box totally unmarked free to get on the end of a cross and slot home for Linfield. Not a good start. Time to kick up from counter to standard and try go for a longer passing game. The rest of the first half passes fairly uneventfully as we fight back to even possession. Forty-five minutes left for us to turn this around.
Smyth’s struggling and he’s off at the half as Magee goes out to the full back spot. We come out strong after the break, forcing an attacking throw in just a minute after starting. Redman takes the throw ten yards up from the corner flag, throwing short to find Croskery. Croskery heads the ball down and drives to the byline, cutting back a wicked low cross right into the middle of the six yard box. Like a green blur, Craig Faulkner flashes past three Lindfield defenders and absolutely smashes the ball away from the goalkeepers waiting hands and into the top netting. This kid is a hero.
Ten more minutes pass as the game tightens up after the equalizer. Mitchell sends a few shots flying by our bar but he’s getting frustrated and taking poor shots from distance. Just prior to the hour mark Faulkner plays a one-two with Croskery and finds the space to drive to the edge of the area with the return pass. I was expecting the shot, but our little Northern Irish Modric splits the entire defense with a perfectly waited pass to find none other than Ross Redman. He must’ve heard my pre-match comments regarding his lack of quality in place of Kane, as I thought the ball was going clean through the back of the net he hit it so hard. His first and possibly only goal of the year may prove to be the most important of our entire season.
Back to the counter for the last half hour. We hold our destiny firmly in our hands now, only a two goal collapse will keep the title from us this week. The boys can taste that trophy. Instead of spending the last half hour fighting off a non-stop attack, we actually manage to even up the possession stats and had probably the most controlled portion of the match. The fans have raised the noise level at The Oval to louder than I’ve ever heard. Calum Birney knocks Mitchell a little too hard with less than a minute remaining, setting up a Linfield free kick from about twenty yards. We can stand to concede one more, but I’m afraid of the momentum shift a dramatic late goal can cause. Linfield captain Robert Garrett steps over the free kick and sends a dipping strike a whisper over the wall, beating Morris high to the near post.
The next four minutes were easily the longest in my career. Linfield kicked on the afterburners, just as I had feared. Mitchell and striker Kris Bright go narrowly wide several more times, surging forward like a crazed Bonzai attack. Seconds feel like minutes until finally, mercifully three shrill peeps echo through the ground.
For the first time in almost a decade, Glentoran FC have won the Danske Bank Premier League.
Needless to say, no one expected an American with no experience to lead a team picked 14-1 to come in first. At the start of the season we were hoping for a Europa League playoff spot or possibly squeaking 2nd place. To steal the title from Linfield (who’ve won 4 of the last 8 since we won) in a derby with a match to spare is a better outcome than I could have possibly imagined.
The last match of the season was a dead rubber away to Carrick Rangers. I fielded half a squad of U-18 players and lost 3-1.
Linfield drew their final match after having their eternal spirits crushed. Three points clear, best goal difference in the league, least conceded goals in the league.
A clean sweep for Glentoran FC in the end of the year awards. I’ll gladly accept Manager of the Year in my first season. Kane broke the Linfield hearts further as he pipped their two star players (and preseason favorites for the award) despite missing the end of season run in. Our front two and first-third in Young Player of the Year, although I feel Craig was robbed of second place by virtue of not being a striker. Speaking of Craig:
The moment I’ve dreaded. He’s grown all the way to 4 star current ability and still seems to have plenty of room to grow. I had a talk with him but he’s not hearing of staying. I told him that was fine, I didn’t want to stand in the way of his career, but a bid matching or exceeding my 75k valuation of him would be required. I tried to set a higher price but he said I was being unfair and trying to price him out of a move. I’d hate to see a player with such potential go, but 75k would still be a massive fee.
There we have it, the first season of our journey is in the bag and it went extremely well. I’ve signed another year long contract with Glentoran. Every important player either has another year left or has already been offered a new contract. We’ve been given 87k for transfers and an addition 1.5k room in the wages. That should be plenty to bring in a few players to shore up our weak areas. I don’t hold high hope for making any progress in the Champions League, but a good close season could set us up for a strong run at a second consecutive title. Tune in next time for the transfer and preseason special as we start our title defense.