Ballymena United 2 Glentoran 3
Scott Young’s road-weary troops will go into battle tonight in Dundalk with a clarion call of remember Drogheda 2008 ringing in their ears.
Three years ago, and against all the odds, the Glens fought their way into the final of the Setanta Sports Cup with a gutsy win over the Drogs and it’s going to take another gargantuan effort south of the border if they are to keep their cup hopes alive.
They trail by a single goal from the first leg and Dundalk, who accounted for Linfield in the last round, will be keen to complete a double over the Big Two.
And it will be against a Glentoran side who are down to the bare and aching bones as their crippling fixture list hits hard but, as Saturday’s win at Ballymena showed, there is no shortage of spirit in Young’s men.
The manager’s nerves, though, are probably in tatters as they threw away the two-goal lead handed to them by Andy Waterworth, albeit courtesy of comedy defending from the Sky Blues, who rolled their sleeves up to give the Glens just the match they didn’t want ahead of tonight’s big encounter.
Mark Surgenor halved the deficit and from then on it was all Ballymena, a second goal from Neil McCafferty’s deflected free-kick the least they deserved and from then on it seemed there would be only one winner. Wrong.
Heroes come in all guises but the smallest man on the pitch, Peter Steele, belied his cherubic features with a canny finish of an established goalgetter for an 87th minute winner to break United hearts and keep the Glens’ title hopes alive.
With a big fight down south on the cards it was fitting then that the quiet man of the Glentoran side spoke afterwards of his delight at scoring and also ensuring his side remain in the hunt for the Gibson Cup.
“It’s great to get the goal and it was good to keep us amongst the leaders because there’s only five points in it now,” he explained.
“At 2-0 up we were cruising and thinking we could maybe go on and score three or four but Ballymena pulled in back to two-each and we were on the back foot but we showed character again, dug deep and got the win.
“We have to play Linfield twice and there’s only five points in it and the Crues play the Blues next Saturday so something has to give and, if we keep winning, we’re still there.”
That’s the spirit Young will look for more of tonight and the Oval boss has left no stone unturned as he looks to pull off another great escape.
“I was down on Friday night watching Dundalk and they’re a very good side. It’s going to be a very difficult game, they play on a 3G pitch which is hard on the legs as well,” he explained.
“The boys are having ice baths and we’re just doing everything we can to have them fresh for Monday but it is asking a lot of part-time footballers.
“There were one or two who played who shouldn’t have, but we don’t have too many options to change it, so it’s going to be very difficult to get players back to fitness again because we played today, we play on Monday at Dundalk and then Cliftonville on Saturday.”
The ridiculous UEFA dictat that states teams here can’t play on the same night as Champions League encounters means that two games in the space of three days have hit Young’s side hard. You wonder just how empty Old Trafford would have been had the Glens visit to Coleraine been put back 24 hours last Monday.
“For the last five or six weeks I’ve never known anything like it in the Irish League, with the amount of games we’ve had to play, especially Monday night games because if you play on Tuesday it gives you that extra 24 hours,” added Young. “We’re playing Monday night games and it’s not just Glentoran, it’s difficult for all clubs involved in them.
“It’s wrong, for us not to play on a Tuesday night because there’s Champions League football on I don’t agree with at all, but that’s the rule and I have to abide by it.”