Glentoran bagged all three points at Solitude last night with a 2-0 victory in blustery north Belfast conditions to get their JJB Sports Premiership challenge firmly back on track
It could have been so different for defeated Cliftonville, however, had Stephen O’Neill taken the opportunity which came his way just minutes before Shane McCabe lashed one home at the other end.
With the tie delicately balanced at 0-0, O’Neill contrived to miss a virtual open goal from inside the six yard box and no sooner had he picked himself up from the mudbath that was the goalmouth, the Glens were celebrating taking a lead they never looked back from.
Colin Nixon completed matters with the conversion of a disputed penalty late on as Cliftonville, once again, failed to find the net on league duty.
The visitors were on the front-foot early on and, apparently operating a shoot-on-sight policy which would later pay glorious dividends, attempted a number of strikes from distance, none of which troubled goalkeeper John Connolly.
The first half-chance of the contest arrived on 17 minutes when home defender Ciaran Donaghy found himself out of position on the left flank but nevertheless whipped in a sensational ball across the face of goal which no red-shirted player was on hand to tuck away.
At the other end, Michael Halliday dragged a first-time attempt wide following good work from Kyle Neill, while Dean Fitzgerald forced Ronan Scannell into a timely clearance from right beneath his own crossbar.
Just a minute later came the Reds’ best chance of the half. Declan O’Hara dodged a challenge down the left flank and picked out Conor Downey in attack. He turned inside and played the ball to George McMullan but, appearing distracted by the presence of team-mate Murphy on his shoulder, he thumped his attempt high and wide.
The Glens were forced into a half-time change with injured keeper Morris replaced by James Taylor, who had to be alert to the danger posed by an in-rushing O’Neill in the second period’s opening moments.
O’Neill’s next involvement was to be crucial and the turning point of the match. With Taylor exposed at his near post, Chris Scannell picked out the Reds’ youngster in the middle but his diving header towards a gaping goal drifted wide and just over a minute later, they were behind.
Relieved by the reprieve offered at the other end, the Glens broke the deadlock in sensational style when O’Hara’s short clearance fell to McCabe and he rifled an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
Philip Simpson headed just wide from a corner as the east Belfast men began to turn the screw, although they were grate
ful to skipper Paul Leeman when he was perfectly placed to block a vicious drive from Downey.
Home fans still harboured hopes of a late turnaround but their dreams were dashed six minutes from the end when poor control from O’Hara presented sub Andy Waterworth with possession and, despite goalkeeper Connolly’s contact appearing minimal, it was enough to send the former Hamilton striker tumbling.
Referee David Malcolm had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Nixon ensured victory.
CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, R Scannell, O’Hara, C Scannell, McMullan, Murphy, Smyth, Donaghy, O’Neill, Patterson, Downey. Subs: M Holland (Patterson), Hamill (O’Neill), Catney, O’Connor (Downey), Boyd
GLENTORAN: Morris, Nixon, Neill, Hill, Leeman, McCabe, Fordyce, Halliday, Hamilton, Fitzgerald, Simpson. Subs: Ward, Waterworth (Halliday), James Taylor (Morris), Gardiner, McGovern
Referee: David Malcolm (Bangor)