Belfast Telegraph

Glentoran go cock-a-hoop as Cliftonville go top: Irish League Boxing Day derby talking points

Glentoran's Patrick McClean celebrates
Glentoran's Patrick McClean celebrates
26/12/2019 Danske Bank Irish Premiership match between Crusaders and Cliftonville at Seaview Belfast. Cliftonvilles goal scorer Conor McMenamin celebrates at the final whistle Mandatory Credit © Inpho/Stephen Hamilton
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

After a day of dramatic Boxing Day derbies, only four points separate the Danske Bank Premiership's top four teams.

Here's the big talking points from the festive fixtures:

Glentoran 3-0 Linfield: The Big Two's back and so are the Glens

The Cock n Hens will be cook-a-hoop this evening after a rare Boxing Day derby win that could mean so much more.

It's the biggest Big Two victory for the Glens since 1995 but it's the context that makes the result so special for the club.

There had only been a solitary Glentoran win in the last 18 league meetings between Northern Ireland's two biggest clubs. In terms of festive fixtures, there had only been two Glentoran wins in recent memory - a run dating back to the 1980s.

In the midst of the raucous Big Two derby atmosphere, there was an applause in the third minute from Glentoran and...

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Thursday, December 26, 2019

It's little wonder that today's success for Mick McDermott and his side will spark big celebrations in east Belfast.

That's before even taking the significance of the result into consideration. Defeat knocks Linfield off the top of the table, behind Cliftonville, while Glentoran are now just three points behind their derby rivals and four off the summit.

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This one had a real big-game feel as the two bitter rivals are once again vying for position.

Robbie McDaid said 10 days ago that the Glens weren't in a title challenge 'at the minute'.

It may be time to review that situation.

Crusaders 1-2 Cliftonville: Cliftonville buck bad Boxing Day trend  

Finally, for the first time since 2012, it's a real Happy Boxing Day for Cliftonville.

Their 2-1 win at the Crues ended a run of four defeats and two draws in the last six festive fixtures. To top it all off, the result is enough to send the Reds top of the league, a point above Linfield.

They had to come back from behind to do it as Crusaders scored inside the first 10 minutes for the fourth time in the last five derbies.

When Declan Caddell cleared one off the line at 2-1, the Reds will have been forgiven for wondering if their Boxing Day run was due to continue but Conor McMenamin's double proved enough, the winner arriving on 79 minutes.

Coleraine 2-0 Ballymena United: The Bannsiders are back in title hunt

Coleraine are only one point off table-topping Cliftonville after their first Boxing Day win since 2015.

The result was enough to end Ballymena's run of three straight victories and, in the process, halt a sequence of four league games without victory for Oran Kearney's Bannsiders.

Josh Carson and Jamie Glackin bagged the goals to end Ballymena's early enthusiasm after only 17 minutes. It was the biggest derby outside the Big Smoke and it set the north coast alive with celebration and title-challenging excitement.

Glenavon 5-0 Dungannon: Five goals but makeshift derby still lacks festive sparkle

How times have changed at Mourneview Park. From 1996 to 2012, there wasn't a single Boxing Day win to celebrate for Glenavon. Now there has been four in seven years.

Even they will admit, of course, that their two victories in the last three years have lacked the magic sparkle, coming against Dungannon Swifts rather than traditional rivals Portadown.

The Ports won their own makeshift derby, 2-0 over Loughgall, to stay clear of Ballinamallard at the top of the Championship so perhaps the Mid Ulster Derby will make a return in 2020.

For now, Gary Hamilton and his side will have to make do with their biggest league win in 22 months, helped by Conor McCloskey's opener that arrived on only 15 seconds.

The Lurgan Blues, in 'crisis' for much of the season so far, are somehow only six points off the top six.

Larne 0-0 Carrick Rangers: Larne's top six spot in jeopardy?

A couple of months ago, it seemed that the top six and bottom six might already be decided.

However, fast forward a run of only four wins in 10 games and Larne's position is in threat. Glenavon and Ballymena are now only six points behind Tiernan Lynch's side.

The newly-promoted team will have wanted to begin life in the Premiership by securing a spot in the top tier's top tier. With two seasoned veterans in tow, they won't do it unchallenged.

Institute 0-1 Warrenpoint Town: Aren't Boxing Day games meant to be derbies?

There are always two teams left over. With the other 10 sides matched up into 'derby' games, who have we got? Warrenpoint were the big losers, sent off on a four hour round trip to Drumahoe. Barry Gray had challenged his side to make the long journey home a sweet one and Eamon Scannell was the man to manage it, netting the 64th minute winner.

It's a result that lifts Town just ONE point off their non-derby rivals at the foot of the table.

Bottom at Christmas, yes. But for how long?

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