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Europa League: Glentoran 2 FK Renova 1

By Chris Holt

It was 25 years in the making but Glentoran finally won a home tie in Europe last night in one of the most dramatic continental encounters ever seen at the Oval.

Trailing 2-1 from a fiery first leg to Macedonia's FK Renova, Richard Clarke gave them the opener they needed on the night. However, an equaliser from Ismail Ismaili threw a massive spanner in the works, meaning they needed more to go through and win at home for the first time since seeing off Fram from Iceland all those years ago.

Up stepped 17 year old Martin Murray to score one of the best goals — yes, arguably even better than Matty Burrows FIFA top 10 goal from last season — seen here in a long time and it took penalties to decide the contest.

Heroes were needed and the fairytale was completed when Aaron Hogg, in for the suspended Elliott Morris and in his first game for Glentoran, made two saves to cap off a famous night for the east Belfast men.

Despite the hopes amongst the home supporters for a fiery start, the Glens began somewhat tentatively and the visitors’ ball retention in the early stages was impressive.

Renova were looking to benefit from a lack of pace on the right of Glentoran's defence and on 22 minutes a cross from Fisnik Nuhi found Muharem Bajrami unmarked but he volleyed wide.

Two minutes later from the other flank, Nuhi somehow missed from a few yards out, this time from Ismaili's cross.

The Glens were to grow in confidence though and on 31 minutes it was advantage Glentoran.

Clarke picked the ball 35 yards from goal and cut inside with the crowd baying him to shoot. The midfielder took another touch and appeared to be crowded out by defenders, until, spotting the keeper off his line he floated a delightful shot into the top corner.

This really was game on now. As it stood, this would be enough to send the Glens through on away goals but on the stroke of half time, Bajrami smashed a shot off the crossbar from 22 yards.

After the interval the Glens pressed forward and on 55 minutes Clarke played in Darren Boyce and the former Coleraine man cut inside onto his left but his shot was beaten away by Eljezi.

Four minutes after that, disaster struck as Renova equalised on the night. Bajrami's shot was parried by Hogg and Ismaili took a touch before squeezing his shot home.

With two goals now needed to go though, boss Scott Young gave Northern Ireland international Stephen Carson his debut, the winger having barely trained.

However, it was another substitute who would lift the roof off the Oval.

Having come on two minutes earlier, on 74 minutes young Murray picked the ball up just inside the opposition's half and moved forward 10 yards before letting fly with an outrageous drive from 40 yards that, had it not found the top corner, would have been felling swans in the nearby Victoria Park.

Clarke almost made it a treble of stunning strikes a minute later only for his 20 yard volley to be brilliantly saved by Eljezi.

With no further chances, and the aggregate score locked at 3-3, extra time arrived and tiredness began to set in, particularly for the Glens who struggled at times to clear their lines.

Vulnet Emini caused a few hearts to flutter as twice shots whistled past the post, before Renova substitute Boban Janchevski was given a second yellow card for deliberate hand ball.

So to the lottery of penalties with Waterworth, Boyce and, crucially, Jason Hill on target for the Glens and when Hogg saved from Grgjent Gafuri, it sparked wild scenes, the like of which east Belfast hadn’t seen on a European night like this one for a long, long time.

GLENTORAN: Hogg, Taylor, Nixon, Ward, O'Kane (Carson 62), Cherry (Howland 105), O'Hanlon (Murray 71), Clarke, Hill, Waterworth, Boyce. Subs: Howland, Burrows, Gibson, McGuigan, Beggs.

FK RENOVA: Elijezi, Trajkovski, Ristov, Stephanovski, Statovci, Gashi (Janchevski 52), Emini, Nuhi, Simonovski, Bajrami (Gafuri 90), Ismaili. Subs: Abdula, Stepanovski, Fetai, Krasniqi, Asani.

Referee: Petteri Kari (Finland)

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