In Pictures: Hamilton points Glentoran to top of the table
Glentoran 2 Linfield 2
Gary Hamilton was the Glentoran saviour last night as his late goal grabbed a point for the champions in a superb Big Two encounter with Linfield at the Oval.
And that point was enough to send Alan McDonald’s team to the top of the Carling Premiership with a superior goal difference to Crusaders.
In an old fashioned game of two halves, the Glens held the advantage at the break through Daryl Fordyce's strike only for the Blues to rally in the second-half.
A Sean Ward own goal levelled matters and Jamie Tomelty stunned east-Belfast with a goal that looked unlikely after Glentoran's early domination.
I took Hamilton to come up with the goods to spare Glentoran what would have been a morale sapping defeat.
David Jeffrey made what many would regard as a gamble in playing Noel Bailie alongside William Murphy in the heart of the Linfield defence for the first time this season.
There is no doubting either player's quality or experience, but they aren't getting any younger and the Glens had plenty of pace in attack to exploit those ageing legs.
That was proven after just six minutes when a ball from the back caught out the Blues defence and gave Hamilton the opportunity to race with Murphy, but despite running clear and blasting into the net, Hamilton was adjudged to have fouled the defender in the build-up.
In contrast to that, the veterans' ability to read the game, arguably like no other in the league, became apparent as the game went on as the Glens were caught offside on a number of occasions by a disciplined Linfield rearguard.
The Blues weren't getting any opportunity to test James Taylor and Peter Thompson in his first Big Two game since his coming back to Linfield on-loan from Stockport County was enduring a difficult return to the Oval.
Both he and Paul Munster were marshalled superbly by Paul Leeman, Sean Ward and Colin Nixon and that authority bred confidence throughout the home team.
And so it came as no surprise that on the 26th minute the deadlock was broken.
Gillespie went on a foraging run down the right and found the unmarked Burrows at the back post. The striker wasn't in a position to score himself so intelligently he took a touch and fed Fordyce who found the bottom corner with a well-placed left-foot shot.
The Glens continued to dominate without really putting Stuart Addis under any pressure and a series of passes around the middle of the park drew “oles” from the home support.
However, in any Big Two game, if you are in the ascendancy you have to make it count and after the break Linfield were like a different team.
Munster forced a great save from James Taylor on 49 minutes and from that corner Glentoran, in complete contrast to their composure in the first-half, were all over the place.
Damian Curran's ball in wreaked havoc and Thompson's shot on the turn looked to be going wide only to hit Ward on the line and it deflected into the goal for an unlikely equaliser.
Then four minutes later the game completely turned on it's head.
Munster's superb through ball found Thompson who made a dart into the box. The Northern Ireland international held the play up well then sent the ball across goal where no-one had tracked Jamie Tomelty's run and the winger hammered home from eight yards out.
Suddenly, the calmness that had been the hallmark of Glentoran's display just minutes earlier had evaporated. They couldn't regain a foothold on the game and their confidence looked drained.
Linfield sensed that and piled forward, taking advantage of a backline that couldn't clear the ball and invited more pressure.
Yet the Blues almost gave Glentoran a way back in when Hamilton, one of the few players who continued to play as well as he had previously, crossed from the right and Billy Joe Burns slammed the ball off his own crossbar.
It was enthralling, a real advert for the Carling Premiership, and at this stage, somehow, having been dreadful in the opening period, it was Linfield's match to lose. They were outstanding in the second-half and deserve credit for bouncing back the way they did.
Then, on 85 minutes, came arguably the game's turning point. Thompson — who had worked hard all night to provide for his strike partners — cut the ball back for the onrushing Philip Lowry and his shot was brilliantly saved down low by Taylor.
That gave the Glens a lift and with two minutes remaining they snatched a point from the jaws of defeat. Fordyce's shot through a crowed penalty area was spilled by Addis and from an acute angle Hamilton fired home to lift the roof off the Oval and the Glens to the top of the table.