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Cool O'Connor is the main man as Blues close the gap on Glenavon

Glentoran 0-1 Linfield

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Front foot: Glentoran’s Marcus Kane makes an acrobatic intervention under pressure from Kirk Millar

Front foot: Glentoran’s Marcus Kane makes an acrobatic intervention under pressure from Kirk Millar

Front foot: Glentoran’s Marcus Kane makes an acrobatic intervention under pressure from Kirk Millar

Michael O'Connor jumped for joy and raised his arms in triumph as the final whistle blew, the 20-year old forward delighted that his super strike had won the Big Two clash at The Oval.

O'Connor's early goal, brilliantly set up by the mazy run of Joel Cooper, proved to be the difference in a derby that lacked quality and took David Healy's side to within one point of Danske Bank Premiership leaders Glenavon.

Glentoran will be disappointed that they didn't earn a draw. But for some weak finishing and Roy Carroll in the Linfield net, they would have done.

It was another clean sheet for the Blues in a season full of them so far. With their steely rearguard, coupled with the class of new signings O'Connor and Cooper, it's little wonder they are favourites for the title.

Before kick-off the Glentoran Women's team paraded the Irish Cup they won last month after beating the Blues.

Ronnie McFall's men were hoping for the same outcome in front of the Sky Sports cameras and a hefty crowd who had braved wet and windy conditions.

While last season was a difficult campaign for both sides, in the head-to-head meetings the Glens had the superior record, winning twice while the Blues enjoyed one victory with the other match drawn.

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Memories of that, plus Glentoran's promising start to this season, offered encouragement to The Oval regulars, even though the Blues entered the match unbeaten in the league.

The first meaningful action came in the Linfield area in the ninth minute after Josh Robinson needlessly gave away a corner. From the resulting set-piece, Glentoran midfielder John Herron had an acrobatic overhead kick comfortably saved by Carroll.

Moments later, at the other end, Steven Gordon was the first player in referee Arnold Hunter's book following a crude challenge on the dangerous Cooper (right), who on 15 minutes showed why he was a marked man by creating the opening goal.

The former Glenavon ace, in sensational form since his summer move to Windsor, collected the ball inside Glentoran's half and danced his way past too many defenders for McFall's liking before passing to striker O'Connor, who continued his love affair with the Linfield faithful by drilling home.

It was a cracking strike by a man in form - his fifth goal since joining the Blues.

As O'Connor and the Blues fans celebrated, frustrated Glentoran supporters fell silent. Seconds previously they had been roaring for a penalty when Curtis Allen and Robinson tangled in the area.

It could have been 2-0 on 26 minutes when Kirk Millar's in-swinging corner into a packed box was cleared off the line.

The remainder of the half was duller than dishwater, with both sets of players struggling to string passes together in the blustery weather.

Callum Birney and Joe Crowe were yellow carded for the Glens, adding to a caution for Linfield skipper Jamie Mulgrew.

Glentoran needed to make a fast start in the second period and they were quick out of the blocks with Curtis Allen at the heart of the action. On 47 minutes, he headed over from eight yards when unmarked, and then on 53 he nodded off target from a corner. Next up, Carroll saved Allen's close range overhead kick, though the offside flag was up.

It was a concerning period for David Healy, especially having lost star man Cooper to injury just after the break.

Mulgrew was doing his bit to try and inspire the boys in blue but others needed to step up. Substitute Niall Quinn did just that on 70 minutes with a wonderful left wing cross which just evaded O'Connor. Shortly after, Robert Garrett raced into the box with intent for Linfield only to poke his shot wide.

On 77 minutes, Willie Garrett was the fourth Glens player to be booked after taking down Daniel Kearns. The free-kick that followed fell in the box to Kirk Millar, and his mis-hit effort looped against the bar before being claimed by Elliott Morris.

Sixty seconds later, with the match threatening to open up, Carroll performed heroics to stop Marcus Kane levelling with a header. It was the home team's last chance.

The Glens probably merited a point but it was Linfield's night thanks to clinical O'Connor.

GLENTORAN: Morris, Garrett, Kane, Birney, Herron, Allen, McGuigan (Byrne, 69 mins), Pepper, Crowe (Davidson, 65 mins), Gordon, Redman. Unused subs: Nelson, Gallagher, McMahon, Ferrin, McCarthy.

LINFIELD: Carroll, Robinson, Callacher, O'Connor, Cooper (Quinn, 48 mins), Millar, Clarke, Kearns (Waterworth, 80 mins), Mulgrew, Garrett, Mitchell. Unused subs: Nielsen, Stewart, Fallon, McGuinness, Deane.

Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)

Man of the Match: Michael O'Connor

Match rating: 6/10


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