Gary Haveron made his debut as Glentoran manager when Linfield visited The Oval today, hoping to do a bit better than Scott Young managed on his debut against the same opponents in 2010.
Strangely, I was nervous going into today’s game. Glentoran have been so bad this season they were surely due to have a good performance?
When they’ve faced Linfield top of the league or challenging for the title, I never felt as worried going into the game as today.
An early goal would have been a dream start for Linfield. They should have had it when Ross Gaynor was played in behind Glentoran’s defence but his cross went straight to Elliott Morris when attacking players were queuing up for a pass.
Over the past 14 years, everyone except referees have got used to Elliott Morris timewasting. Doing so inside the first 10 seconds was impressive, going down and making the most of a Paul Smyth challenge..
Admittedly, a naughty challenge by Smyth, you would expect a keeper to stay on his feet and look his opponent in the eye to say that he’s not going to be pushed around. Bizarre.
There wasn’t long to wait for a Linfield goal, as Kirk Millar returned a cross after his corner came back to him, and his cross was put into his own net by Marcus Kane.
Glentoran’s nervousness in defence was clear to see, conceding soft throws and corners from poorly executed clearances. It was almost as if they were inviting Linfield to score.
Chris Casement looked set to reciprocate the defensive generosity when his clearance played in Steven Gordon, but his shot was blocked by Mark Stafford. That’s the sort of thing that happens to teams that are struggling at the bottom of the league.
Aaron Burns was looking to score in his 4th successive game, and had two headed chances that he couldn’t get on target. Mark Stafford was another who couldn’t get a header on target, while Sammy Clingan had a long range shot parried out for a corner.
It might sound like Linfield were playing brilliant. They weren’t, barely creating anything in open play.
Kirk Millar stayed on his feet when he could have got a penalty if he went down, and wasn’t rewarded for his honesty as his shot dragged wide.
In a way, I was glad that Linfield were only 1-0 up. If they were 2-0 up, they could have got complacent and conceded, giving all the momentum to Glentoran.
At least at 1-0, Linfield would have known they needed to kill the game, and could focus on the job in hand.
That was the plan. What the reality was, Linfield continued to play as poor as they did, but Glentoran were playing better, and in a mood to make Linfield pay.
Roy Carroll was forced into a save from a wide angle, with a goal kick being surprisingly awarded.
A few minutes, later a wrong decision benefited Glentoran when a corner was awarded when it should have been a goal kick to Linfield. They made the most of it when Curtis Allen fired home from a yard out. It had been coming. It made his last minute equaliser at Windsor Park last season look like a long range effort.
This game had mirrored the pattern of meetings in November 2014 and October 2015 when Glentoran scored last minute equalisers after Linfield played poorly and invited them on.
The only positive for Linfield, was that there was still 35 minutes to rectify the situation.
Though, the only team that looked like winning were Glentoran.
All Linfield could do, was to try and ride out the storm. They just about did.
David Healy turned to the bench, bringing on Andrew Waterworth for Paul Smyth. The scene was set for him to get a late winner. As far as Linfield were concerned, anyone would have done.
Soon after, Kris Bright came on for Ross Gaynor, but it was Glentoran who had the next big chance when Calum Birney headed wide.
Again, David Healy turned to his bench, bringing on Niall Quinn for Aaron Burns. Personally, I would have brought on Stephen Fallon.
On 87 minutes, Linfield had one last push, winning a corner. From that corner, Jimmy Callacher headed home to put Linfield 2-1 up.
As poorly as Linfield had played, there was no way that Glentoran were going to come back from that. All Linfield had to do was keep their nerve in the time remaining to get the points.
That time remaining would include 5 minutes of injury time after a Glentoran player suffered a head injury.
It was Glentoran rather than Linfield who were failing to hold their nerve in the final moments when Calum Birney was sent-off for a reckless challenge on Niall Quinn.
It was stupid on so many levels, as Quinn wasn’t going towards goal, and it ate up so much time when time wasn’t on Glentoran’s side.
Linfield looked the most likely to score in injury time from breakaways. Kris Bright was played in but his low shot was straight at Elliott Morris.
If you’re going to miss at that time of the game, at least sky it so it will kill some time. Thankfully, it wasn’t costly for Linfield as the final whistle blew and they celebrated 7 successive league wins against Glentoran at The Oval, 8 successive wins at the venue if you include the ‘home’ match against Crusaders in 2015.
It was a smash and grab by Linfield. In some ways, it was probably more satisfying that winning 4 or 5-0.
Elsewhere, Crusaders beat Cliftonville 4-3. I had heard that Cliftonville were 3-0 up, then I heard it was 4-3 to Crusaders.
I’d no mobile internet due to Vodafone being a rip-off shower and double charging me for data. It was a nice throwback to the days of hearing 50 different scores of the same match.
When Cliftonville were winning and Linfield drawing, Cliftonville would have been 4 points behind Linfield with them to come to Solitude later this month, and Cliftonville playing next Saturday while Linfield are in Scotland to face Queen of the South.
Today’s result ended Cliftonville’s slight title chances, if they weren’t over already.
It’s a break for Linfield in league terms, travelling to Palmerston to take on Queen of the South in the Scottish Challenge Cup.
October will be a busy month for Linfield, playing Weekend-Midweek from next weekend onwards.
When you get a late winner at The Oval, the games can’t come soon enough.