Glentoran 3 Crusaders 1
Colin Nixon's Glentoran career has been written off more than once in the past couple of years.
The club’s record appearance maker has never been the quickest of players which is probably just as well if you are a Glenman because, had he been blessed with pace, the Newtownards man’s footballing life would have been spent at a much higher level than the Irish League.
During the last season or two, or maybe even three, inevitably as the years tick on, the 32-year-old has lost a further yard or two and that brought criticism from fans and pundits that his days in the pressure-cooker of playing for one of the Big Two could be coming to an end.
Nixon always felt he still had plenty to offer, but it would be fair to say that had he continued to play at right back, the position he has held a tight grip on for well over a decade, then pulling on the shirt he holds dear would be a much more rare occurance.
However, having made a move to the centre of defence, Nixon has probably prolonged his stay at the Oval for another couple of years at least.
Put simply, Nixon has, arguably, become Glentoran’s most important player.
That was exemplified by a superb display on Saturday as the Glens saw off Crusaders at the Oval, Nixon performing terrifically at the back and popping up with a goal in the east Belfast side’s impressive 3-1 win.
Last Saturday Scott Young’s side lost by the same scoreline to Lisburn Distillery.
Crucially, in that game Nixon, nor Glentoran’s other star turn this year, fellow centre back Sean Ward, were available.
This victory over the Crues demonstrated just how much he was missed and Young is well aware of how important Nixon and the other defensive veteran Paul Leeman are to his team, who are filled with potential but lacking in experience.
And that’s not to mention that injury problems that have plagued this small team.
“Nicky is obviously a huge presence at the club and that presence is missed when he's not playing,” said Young.
“He's a strong boy and there are not too many in the league who are better in the air than him.
“Leeper also played well — the whole back four did.
“Jamie McGovern was put in and really Jamie's not fit but that shows much much we are down to the bare bones as such, but I thought defensively, yes, we coped.
“It wasn't easy but at the end of the day we did cope with what they threw at us, until they scored. Importantly, I wanted to see everyone working hard and getting about and putting in tackles and I thought for the most part we tried to do that.”
“It is a young squad and everyone knows the situation at the club and everything else but to have those boys (Nixon and Leeman) is massive but at the end of the day they
know that if they don't produce the goods they won't be in the team.
“Colin has been outstanding this season in my opinion but Paul has been thrown into the deep end as well after his leg break but I think here we were beginning to see glimpses of the Paul Leeman of old.”
It would be well over the top to suggest that this was a vintage Glentoran display.
They performed well in stages, playing some neat football with most of what was good about their attacking play going through Daryl Fordyce who was a constant threat with his neat passing and awareness.
It was Fordyce’s pin-point cross which set up Matty Burrows for a rare headed goal after just six minutes and at that point, with
the Crues seemingly struggling at the back, it appeared as though the Glens would march to an easy victory.
The visitors rallied but fell further behind when Nixon scored five minutes after the break before Stuart Dallas pulled one back and set up a great finish. No one really knew how it would pan out but Peter Steele won it for the Glens with two minutes remaining — his first goal for the club.
While obviously disappointed at the result, Crues boss Baxter said he couldn’t ask for more from his players.
He said: “Glentoran took their chances and we didn't quite get the run of the ball, but there you go. At 2-0 down we chased it and left ourselves vulnerable to the counter-attack which was always going to happen.”