Belfast Telegraph

Glentoran are facing 'long, difficult road back to the top and Nacho Novo signing has not worked out'

By Graham Luney

Chris Morgan says he can't see Glentoran returning to the top of Irish League football unless they strike it lucky with a talented group of young players emerging from the club's Academy.

The Glens have a proud history of winning 23 league titles but the last one was in 2009 and their Danske Bank Premiership form has nose-dived.

Gary Haveron's side are in real danger of missing out on a top-six place with four games to go before the league split and they may even slip out of the Europa League play-off picture.

Two Irish Cup wins in 2013 and 2015 helped relieve the pain but the club has soldiered on through a storm of past financial mismanagement, budget cuts, top players leaving and a high injury count.

Morgan has league winner medals from his time at Glentoran, Linfield and Crusaders - a feat only matched by Paul Kirk.

The 41-year-old, who won three titles at Linfield, scored the winner for the Glens against the Blues at The Oval on April 23, 2005 which ensured the east Belfast side went on to clinch the Championship.

Fans fought on the pitch after Morgan's late strike but the Glentoran faithful still affectionately refer to that date as 'Morgan Day'.

But the Glens fans have little to cheer about ahead of today's Big Two clash against Linfield at The Oval and Morgan admits the road back to the top for his former club is a long and difficult one.

"I'm not sure how Glentoran can get back to the top," said Morgan, who provides analysis on Premiership matches for the BBC.

"There seems to be a hangover from the financial difficulties the club has experienced, coupled with the fact that the team is not playing well and the club is not able to bring the top players in the league to The Oval.

"Unable to add quality players, they have fallen behind other clubs and they need to turn that tide but it won't be easy as other teams are progressing, such as Ballymena United who have just won the League Cup under David Jeffrey.

"When good players become available, the Glens have found it difficult to compete financially with other clubs and the Nacho Novo signing has not worked out.

"The money being spent on Novo could have been spent on a few players who could have made an impact and that's one aspect of the game that sets Crusaders apart from most of the other sides as their manager Stephen Baxter has been good at nailing down deals and improving his squad.

"Having said that, would players such as David Cushley and more recently Andrew Mitchell have wanted to join Glentoran?

"Linfield will not win the league this season but they are still miles ahead of Glentoran."

Morgan, who also played for Newry City and Dungannon Swifts, feels the emergence of a gifted group of young players at The Oval is Glentoran's best hope of reliving the glory days.

"I feel what the Glens need is a new wave of young talent coming through - players in the mould of Paul Leeman, Andy Kirk, Colin Nixon and Stuart Elliott," added the big Spurs fan.

"But it's not often a group like that can come out of the Academy and it's like a once a generation occurrence.

"You've got to ask the question, where are the players going to come from to propel Glentoran into the top four?

"They probably need seven or eight players to do that and they don't have the financial muscle at the moment to make it happen. The two Irish Cup wins were fantastic but the manager who won them (Eddie Patterson) is gone and their league form has not improved.

"Glentoran may remain one of the best supported clubs in the league but they are falling further behind in the league and that must concern the fans.

"And it's not a criticism of Gary Haveron - it's the environment he finds himself in.

"There's a multitude of factors which are frustrating everyone because if we're being honest we'd say a strong Glentoran helps make a strong Irish League. If they can stumble on a good group of young players coming through the ranks and add a few experienced players then they could maybe find the right blend."

Glens chiefs are waiting on the green light to build a new stadium on the site of The Oval and the emergence of any new facility would allow the club to rebuild on the pitch as well.

Morgan said: "The Oval is a depressing place and the sad reality is that it is a big, empty, dingy stadium.

"The club wants to build a new stadium on the site but those plans are up in the air. It seems to be a negative on top of a negative holding the Glens back. A new stadium would transform the atmosphere around the club but the team needs good players.

"I'm not sure about the input that (Director of Football) Roy Coyle has at the club but he has said himself it is down to signing good football players.

"Glentoran's budget has held them back a bit on that front after the club suffered from financial mismanagement.

"It's sad to see because in a 12-team league where seventh gives you the possibility of securing a European place, the Glens might even finish in eighth."

While one proud club from east Belfast searches for talent and inspiration, champions Crusaders, who travel to Portadown today, are 38 points above them in the table and coasting to a third consecutive league title.

"I felt the title race was over before Linfield dropped points at home to Portadown and Crusaders are threatening to dominate for years to come," added Morgan.

"The Irish Cup quarter-final is now massive for both clubs and there is huge pressure on the Blues in particular as they need to be winning league titles and Irish Cups. Another season without a major trophy would be tough to take.

"There were some positive signs from Linfield in that they broke through that psychological barrier and beat Crusaders in their last two meetings but the Irish League landscape has certainly changed with Crusaders getting things right on and off the pitch."

Glens fans are hoping their club will start making the right moves.

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