Glentoran back on top after win over Linfield
Glentoran 2 Linfield 0
An H-bomb at The Oval last night fired Glentoran to the top of the JJB Sports Premiership after this all-action Big Two encounter.
Gary Hamilton and Michael Halliday were the heroes of the hour, their goals sealing a crucial victory over bitter rivals Linfield, which puts them a point ahead of David Jeffrey's side with a match in hand.
The Glens were good value for the win, just about deserving to go in at the break a goal up through Hamilton's spot kick after Noel Bailie had handled in the box.
In the second half, they were in cruise control and Linfield never looked like getting back into the game.
The Blues lacked creativity and with Glenn Ferguson on the bench, they had nothing up front with big-money signing Kevin McHugh disappointing on his Big Two debut.
But, in his defence, he was never given any service, unlike Halliday who could have scored twice on the night, but got the goal he deserved 15 minutes from time to put the icing on a very sweet Glentoran cake.
After a frantic start Glentoran settled better and seven minutes in Michael Halliday bore down on goal but Noel Bailie got across to make a great blocking tackle and Grant Gardiner then shot wide through a crowded goalmouth.
For Linfield, Jamie Tomelty had an effort blocked by Elliott Morris and Mark McAllister's shot was deflected wide.
On 26 minutes, Johnny Taylor got on the end of Gardiner's corner which was pulled back to the edge of the box, but the young defender saw his effort cannon away from goal.
At the other end, Tomelty had a free kick tipped over the bar by Morris.
So often the hype of a Big Two game is overshadowed by a turgid, chess-game of a match with both teams cancelling each other out, but this encounter was the exception to the rule.
The football on offer wasn't going to excite the purist, but what it lacked in technique, it more than made up for in passion and determination.
The players also deserve credit for trying to keep the pace of the game flowing, with referee Mark Courtney doing his best to take the competitiveness out of the clash by blowing up for every minor infringement.
Next up to try their luck was Taylor whose header looked destined for goal only for Michael Gault, more through luck than judgement got in the way.
While Glentoran were probably just about edging it, the Blues had the best chance when Tumelty was thwarted by the quick thinking of Morris who raced from his line to block well and Robert Garfailed to connect with the rebound.
Surely a goal would come soon and on 39 minutes it finally arrived - from the penalty spot.
Bailie clearly handled in the box and up stepped Hamilton with a trademark cheeky chip which bounced in off the underside of the crossbar, sending the home support into raptures.
It was typical Hamilton – cool, cocky and classy.
He's just that sort of player and, having missed a couple of penalties this season, to step up on such a huge stage and dink the ball home at the City End in front of thousands of Linfield fans takes the kind of guts and confidence in his own ability that Hamilton has in abundance.
The second half wasn't as open as the first. Glentoran weren't quite so ambitious and look more than happy to hit Linfield on the break. Not that the Blues offered much going forward.
McHugh was anonymous and was replaced by Paul Munster seven minutes into the half.
Tomelty had been dangerous in the first period but figuratively speaking he didn't come out for the restart and he too came off in favour of Oran Kearney.
There was very little action to speak off, though referee Courtney was still making some baffling decisions, the strangest coming when he looked to have played an advantage after Michael Carville had chopped down Jason Hill.
Hill retaliated and Courtney, having allowed the Glens to play on, called play back and awarded a free kick to Linfield and booked Hill.
There was some justice as JP Gallagher's shot went straight into the wall.
Finally on 75 minutes there was a notable effort on goal when Hamilton's free-kick as glanced wide by Halliday.
Glenn Ferguson was thrown into the fray in the place of Bailie on 76 minutes as David Jeffrey took a gamble on an equaliser but two minutes later the match was won by the scourge of Linfield.
So often Halliday has decided a Big Two derby and he killed off this one after a superb piece of skill and a slice of luck.
Dean Fitzgerald did brilliantly on the right, skipping inside Gallagher before sending over a great cross which Hamilton headed onto the crossbar. Halliday pounced and headed down, the ball going up and off the underside of the woodwork again before just creeping over the line.
That was it, Linfield's challenge was over and now this amazing title race has seen their bitter rivals move into pole position.
GLENTORAN: Morris, Nixon, Leeman, Johnny Taylor, Hill, Gardiner (Ward 80) Fordyce, Fitzgerald, McCabe, Hamilton (Burrows 90), Halliday. Subs not used: James Taylor, Carson, Black.
LINFIELD: Mannus, Douglas, Bailie (Ferguson 76), Murphy, Gallagher, Carvill, Garrett, Gault, Tomelty (Kearney 58), McHugh (Munster 52), McAllister. Subs not used: O’Kane, Martin.
Referee: Mark Courtney (Dungannon)