Glentoran recorded a 3-1 victory over Cliftonville at Solitude last night thanks in no small part to the set-piece wizardry of ace marksman Gary Hamilton.
The international striker twice dispatched thunderbolt free-kicks beyond the despairing grasp of Reds’ keeper John Connolly to help the east Belfast giants reduce Linfield’s lead at the top of the JJB Sports Premiership.
Andrew Waterworth was also on target, while the Glens could also afford the luxury of a missed Grant Gardiner penalty.
Chris Scannell should have opened the scoring on just three minutes when he latched onto a clever cross from younger brother Ronan, but his first-time attempt lacked both power and precision and goalkeeper Elliot Morris gathered easily.
Within a minute, the Glens had a gilt-edged chance to make the breakthrough when home keeper John Connolly failed to keep a hold of a corner delivery and Hamilton pounced only to send his half-volley over the bar.
The deadlock was finally broken just past the quarter-hour, however, when the Glens were awarded a free-kick 25 yards from goal and, with most players seeming to expect Hamilton to whip in a cross, he had other ideas and swept the ball beautifully into the top corner.
Colin Nixon headed just over 60 seconds later, but the Glens would not have long to wait before celebrating goal number two.
Andrew Waterworth capitalised on a slip by Ciaran Donaghy and, despite seeing his first shot well blocked by the in-rushing Barry Holland, he was perfectly positioned to stroke the rebound beyond Connolly.
Morris saved well at his near post from a Chris Scannell header six minutes before the interval as Cliftonville enjoyed a strong end to the first half while, at the start of the second, Mark Holland got the ball stuck in his feet amid pressure from the Glens’ backline.
Ryan Catney blasted wide from a good position just minutes later but it seemed the threat of a Cliftonville comeback would be blown away on the hour when sub Mark Patterson sent Hamilton tumbling in the box and ref Mark Courtney pointed to the spot.
To home delight, keeper Connolly produced a superb save to keep Grant Gardiner’s strike out, but that respite would prove to be short-lived as, just two minutes later, Hamilton stepped up to smash home his second thunderbolt free-kick of the evening.
The deficit was reduced soon later when Ciaran Donaghy nodded in from Rory Hamill’s free-kick delivery and, though both Mark Holland and Chris Scannell went close late on, Alan McDonald's men always looked like hanging on for victory and did so to reduce Linfield’s lead at the top of the table.
CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, R Scannell, Johnston, M Holland, Hamill, C Scannell, McMullan, Smyth, Donaghy, B Holland, Catney. Subs: O’Hara, O’Neill (M Holland, 80 mins), O’Connor (Hamill, 67 mins), Patterson (McMullan, 55 mins), Boyce
GLENTORAN: Morris, Nixon, Hill, Leeman, McCabe, Fordyce, Hamilton, Waterworth, Fitzgerald, Gardiner, McGovern. Subs: James Taylor, Halliday, Burrows, Simpson, Carson
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon)