Championship Group – The Final Five Matches
The final five matches of the season in Northern Ireland take place after the league splits in half. Each team in the top half plays each other once, and same for the bottom half. Three of our five are away, with Crusaders and Coleraine having a history of giving us trouble on their own grounds. As far as the table goes, it’s down to a two horse race as we enter the split; we can’t finish lower than second. Ten points guarantees the title for us regardless of Coleraine’s results.I feel like the league has scheduled this for maximum drama, as the chance for us to get the tenth point and secure the title is in fact the match against second place. They want a show? Let’s give ’em a show.
Match 1: Away to Crusaders
I told you they gave us trouble. We never really got going and struggled to hold on to the ball (59/41 possession in their favor). They grabbed their first before the quarter hour after Koller couldn’t hold on to a header following a corner and the rebound was smashed in. We struggled to get any chances on the break and our only goal of the match came when the ball came to Philip Comnell in the box following a very attacking throw. Mobbed by defenders, the wily Swede laid off a pass perfectly for Kirk Millar to cut in from the wing and smash home. I thought we’d be able to weather the storm for a draw but Crusaders left winger Cushley sliced through our defense and found the top corner (from a questionably offside position) five minutes from time.
Coleraine had a cup semi-final the day before this match so they won’t play their first of the run in until we play our second. I’m thinking of complaining to the NI FA about this unfair advantage for our competitors.
Match 2: Home vs Dungannon Swifts
Even at home, this was never going to be an easy match. Dungannon had done well all season, finding themselves fairly secure in third as the season was winding down. I demanded a much better showing from the lads. Coleraine had been stubbornly keeping up with us all season and we couldn’t afford to keep dropping points.
They took my words to heart and were in top gear from the opening whistle. Just shy of 20 minutes Eoghan McCawl found himself with possession just in front of the defensive line and spotted Ruairi Croskery streaking down the field. A hopeful lob from McCawl found a pocket of space on the edge of the area and all it took was a single touch for Croskery to control it and put it away high to the near post. A silky smooth series of passes from Kennedy to Croskery to McMahon to Comnell saw the Swede creating again as he found the end of Croskery’s run just prior to the half to double our lead. We controlled the game through the second half and although they grabbed a goal with fifteen minutes left we never really looked like conceding a second.
Coleraine have been smashed 4-0 away to Glenavon in their first match to cancel out our loss to Crusaders. The twelve point gap is maintained, ignoring their game in hand.
Match 3: Away to Cliftonville
I really don’t have any words. I thought this was going to be a tough away tie, and yet somehow we ended up ahead by four goal before half time. Things started off as a nightmare for Cliftonville as Ruairi Croskery found himself through on goal before being absolutely clattered by defender Paul Lawless. McMahon never looked like missing and we took a very early lead. The midfielder grabbed a second less than twenty minutes later as Comnell once again showed he was more than a goal machine, threading a through pass straight to an onrushing McMahon to double the lead.
Kirk Millar found Mikhail Kennedy on the edge of the 18 after controlling a poorly cleared corner and the English loan star took his chance beautifully. Maybe Coleraine’s loss really lit the fire under these guys? As the half time whistle drew near, Millar stepped up to take a free kick from around 30 yards. It was a beautifully struck shot to the far post and the goalkeeper could only get a hand out to deflect it away. Straight into the path of defending Danske Bank Premier League Player of the Year Marcus Kane. The left winger pounced on the rebound to fire it straight into the keeper, who once again couldn’t hold. Kane made no mistake with the second rebound and the match was all but over. Cliftonville grabbed a consolation goal around the hour mark before Kane notched his second in the dying minutes.
Coleraine have won 1-0 in a home match against Dungannon. This means we head there needing only a single point to secure the title.
Match 4: Away to Coleraine
Things got off to the worst start possible as Coleraine right back Lyndon Kane received a pass inside our area totally unmarked and took the lead just past three minutes gone. In hindsight, this was a bad decision on their part. This woke the beast that is Glentoran FC. Not ten minutes later, Croskery found himself with the ball in the attacking third out at the touch line. With a touch of skill to beat his man, he drove hard to the byline and drove a cross hard across the face of goal. The velocity of this cross was surpassed only by the velocity of Kirk Millar as he came soaring in with his best Bruce Lee front kick. They’re going to need a new net after that one.
Things remained tense until half time. Possession was dead even and I didn’t want to commit too fully to attacking. We had our equalizer, we had the point we needed for the title, why throw it away chasing an unnecessary victory? Coleraine knew they needed a win to have even the slightest of hopes. Lacking the superhuman mental fortitude of our own squad, they succumbed to the pressure shortly after the restart. Kirk Millar sent in a corner straight to a defender. The poor clearance found Philip Comnell’s head and was sent back into the area. Despite the fact that not a single Glentoran player was in position to play the ball, several Coleraine defenders decided the goalkeeper couldn’t handle it on his own. What should have been an easy catch met striker Jamie McGonigle’s arm as the referee and linesman signaled for the penalty simultaneously.
Peter McMahon stepped up to the penalty spot with the hopes and dreams of the green half of Belfast on his shoulders. Taking his steps backward quickly, the midfielder took a deep breath and struck a slow, floating shot high to the right corner. The goalkeeper guessed correctly, but simply didn’t have a hope of reaching such a perfectly placed shot.
For the first time since 1911-1912/1912-1913, Glentoran FC have won the league back to back.