Mark Sykes' awe-inspiring Glenavon displays are attracting rough tackles, argues Andy Hall
Glentoran 1 Glenavon 2
Andy Hall believes his Glenavon team mate Mark Sykes is the Irish League's most marked man.
The 21-year-old was the victim of some rough treatment at the Oval on Saturday, which resulted in Glentoran finishing a dramatic Danske Bank Premiership clash with only EIGHT men!
Midfielder John Herron took the walk of shame along with defender Calum Birney - both for challenges on Sykes - leaving the east Belfast side to play out the last hour vastly under strength.
And it got even worse because substitute Willie Garrett was dismissed in the final minute along with Glenavon's Rhys Marshall for clashing off the ball, after Chris Gallagher had clattered in to that man Sykes.
It certainly was a busy afternoon for Keith Kennedy. Although he flashed a straight red card in the direction of Herron - for the most innocent of the challenges - he pulled out the yellow on no fewer than nine occasions.
Little wonder the home fans vented their anger as the Lisburn man trooped off at the finish - under the protection of three security officials.
It looked so good for the Glens when Robbie McDaid headed them in to a 21st minute lead but, within 120 seconds, Herron had departed.
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And once Birney made his exit for an X-rated tackle on Northern Ireland Under-21 star Sykes, it was all downhill for Ronnie McFall's men. Hall shot the visitors level early in the second half before substitute Jordan Jenkins grabbed the winner four minutes from time - a goal that catapulted the Lurgan Blues to the top of the table.
"Mark is a quality player and obviously opposition managers and teams are seeing that, so they're trying anything to stop him," said Hall. "You see some of his touches and some of his play and you're just kind of in awe of it at times. And sometimes opposition players try to take him down.
"Some of the tackles on him deserved punishment and that's why there were a lot of bookings and red cards in the match. In saying that, I think Keith (Kennedy) did ok. I haven't seen any of the incidents on replays, but at first glance the first two (reds) did look like sending offs.
"I'm sure Keith will assess it and see if he could do better in some situations."
With the Lurgan Blues now one point ahead of Linfield at the summit, having played one game less, Hall insists no one will be getting carried away down the Lurgan direction.
"This was a big three points in terms our progress," he added. "I'm not talking about a title challenge, but our hopes of gaining a European place. The reality is we should be beating teams that are reduced to nine men from the first half.
"We probably weren't up to our best in the first 45 minutes. We created a couple of chances, but we were nowhere near our best. We were reminded of that at half-time and thankfully we went out in the second half and got the three points."
Glentoran chief Ronnie McFall insisted afterwards that Herron and Garrett should never have been dismissed, while Birney's challenge of Sykes warranted merely a yellow card.
The club may, in fact, appeal at least two of the red cards.
"I didn't think the first one (Herron) was a booking at all - never mind a red card," he fumed. "Even Sykes told the referee that our boy never touched him, but he wasn't interested. Both players were looking to play the ball. Birney's was definitely a yellow card - no more than that. I didn't think it was a straight red card.
"Willie Garrett was also the innocent party when he was sent off right at the finish. We haven't talked about appealing any of the sendings off, but it's something we'll have to think about, that's for sure."
GLENTORAN: Morris, Birney, Herron, Allen (Garrett, 46 mins), McGuigan, McDaid (Gordon, 67 mins), Kerr, Crowe, Redman, Ferrin, McCarthy (Gallagher, 51 mins). Unused subs: Nelson, McMahon, Davidson, O'Neill.
GLENAVON: Tuffey, King (Jenkins, 70 mins), Marron, Daniels, Marshall, Mitchell (Doyle, 88 mins), Sykes, Hall, Murray, Singleton, Doherty (McCloskey, 82 mins). Unused subs: Grace, Donnelly, Harmon, Muir.
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)
Man of the match: Mark Sykes
Match rating: 8/10