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Europa League place is now Glentoran's big goal: Eddie Patterson


 Rallying call: Glentoran boss Eddie Patterson has given his squad something substantial to aim for

Rallying call: Glentoran boss Eddie Patterson has given his squad something substantial to aim for

Rallying call: Glentoran boss Eddie Patterson has given his squad something substantial to aim for

Eddie Patterson is challenging his Glentoran players to go on a late run that will ensure they bring European football to The Oval this summer.

And that means beating fellow contenders Crusaders when the teams meet at Seaview this evening (7.45pm).

Both teams had been in the title race earlier in the season, but now, with Cliftonville and Linfield slugging it out for the Gibson Cup, Europa League qualification is the best they can hope for.

While the Crues can still claim that through the Irish Cup, the Glens only route to Europe is via the league.

Patterson's men are eight points behind third placed Portadown at present, but tonight's clash with the Crues is a game in hand and with five big post-split fixtures to come after that, anything can happen between now and the end of April.

The carrot of playing in the Europa League, not to mention the financial benefits – qualifiers are guaranteed £100,000 by Uefa, which doubles if they reach the second round – is what Patterson is dangling in front of his squad and he is determined that the season won't be allowed to peter out.

"Even though we have qualified for the top six it's still a big game if we have any aspirations of securing European football," said Patterson.

"Crusaders are in the Irish Cup semi-finals, they will be hungry for the points as well and it will be a toughly contested three points."

The Glens challenge for a third place finish, which will guarantee European qualification – fourth would be enough if the Crues finish third and win the Irish Cup – has been hit, however, with further injury problems.

Jay Magee left the field after just 28 minutes of Saturday's 0-0 draw with Cliftonville with what looked a serious ankle injury and at this stage no date his been earmarked for a return to action, giving Patterson yet another headache in what is already a youthful looking defence.

"That's been our story for the last couple of months with six or seven players sustaining injuries," said Patterson.

"Calum Birney and William Garrett have come back in, but they are two central defenders with very little game time over the last number of weeks.

"The boys are in their early 20s and Jonny Addis is a teenager.

"We have an inexperienced backline and we found ourselves under a lot of pressure against Cliftonville.

"When you have inexperience it creates a problem because there is no talking or leadership out there.

"When there are communication problems the opposing team takes full advantage."

Birney replaced Magee on Saturday and he will be in the starting line up tonight.

Mark Clarke, who was involved in a controversial incident with Cliftonville's Ryan Catney, is also expected to get the nod, even though the performance improved when he was withdrawn at the weekend.

"We played football in the second half against Cliftonville, but in the first half we certainly didn't," said Patterson.

"We knew we couldn't play as bad as we did so we made the substitution at half-time and took Mark Clarke off.

"Mark got away with his challenge on Ryan Catney but Ryan got away with it too. All we ask for is consistency across the line."

Belfast Telegraph