Glentoran arrived back in Belfast in the early hours of this morning still clinging to hopes of a place in the second round of the Europa League — despite a controversial 2-1 defeat in Macedonia last night in a match they finished with just nine-men.
The award of a 14th minute penalty — from which they went 1-0 down — angered the Glens, but that was just the start of a chain of events that had manager Scott Young and his players feeling that they had been extremely hard done by.
After they’d equalised on the stroke of half-time and battled for 75 minutes with just 10-men after Jamie McGovern was dismissed when he conceded the highly debatable penalty, the Glens were irate when the Polish referee failed to spot an offside as Renova scored again just two minutes from time.
Fuming goalkeeper Elliott Morris, who had earlier been booked for time wasting, had to be restrained by team-mates, but his reaction was enough to earn a second yellow card and he too will miss next week’s second leg.
Darren Boyce then donned the gloves for the final minutes of the game with Young having already made his three permitted substitutions.
It’s far from a tale of doom and gloom for the Glens though as a 1-0 victory in the return leg would be enough to see them secure a tie against Vorskla of Ukraine in the next round.
The anger over McGovern’s sending-off was two-fold for the Glens. Firstly they claimed that the foul on Renova captain Fisnik Nuhi happened outside the box and also that as McGovern wasn’t the last defender the foul only merited a yellow card.
The decision, however, was a red card and a penalty, from which Boban Jancevski scored.
Boyce saw his attempt to level the scores on the stroke of half-time thwarted by home goalkeeper Armend Elezi. The resulting corner from Kyle Cherry was only cleared as far as Richard Clarke, who crossed to Jonny Taylor and as he headed back across goal Nixon pounced to nod home from six yards.
European debutant Jim O’Hanlon, Boyce and Richard Clarke all had attempts on goal in the second-half as the Glens made light of being a man short.
Just when it looked like they would return to Belfast with a highly creditable result Renova struck with that late, late blow.
Glens players claimed that they’d heard the sound of the electronic buzzer on the referee’s arm — which is activated by a button on the linesman’s flag — but Muarem Bajrami’s goal was allowed to stand, changing the complexion of the tie slightly.
RENOVA: Elezi, Trajkovski, Bajrami, K Stepanovski, Emini, Nuhi, M Stepanovski, Gashi, Statovci, Jancevski, Ristov. Subs: Abdula, Ismaili, Gafuri, Krasniqi, Simovski, Fetai, Sahiti.
GLENTORAN: Morris, McGovern, Nixon, Ward, Hill, Cherry, Clarke, Taylor, O’Hanlon, Waterworth, Boyce. Subs: Hogg, Gibson, Burrows, McGuigan, Beggs, Murray.
Referee: Dawid Piasecki (Poland).