Glentoran manager Mick McDermott insists he has no worries at all about tonight’s Europa Conference League first qualifying round return leg with The New Saints (TNS) declaring that the Welsh side are not used to the levels the east Belfast side can reach.
The first leg at the Oval last week was drawn 1-1 with substitute Jamie McDonagh grabbing a late equaliser for the Glens after Leo Smith netted a wonder goal for TNS early on.
With the introduction of McDonagh and Andrew Mitchell on 73 minutes, Glentoran’s threat in attack increased as the fitness of TNS flagged and McDermott believes that could be key again this evening especially if first leg absentees such as Ciaran O’Connor and Jay Donnelly are available.
“I think we have more to give in terms of the quality we have,” said the Oval boss.
“The levels and rhythms we can play at are a bit higher than what they are used to and with the five sub rule you can throw in the cavalry like Ciaran O’Connor and Jay Donnelly if they are available.
“You saw what a couple of fresh players did in the first leg late on against a team that looked like they were getting heavy legged.
“In the return leg they may change the way they play but we have to go and be a bit better and take a couple more of the chances that we created at the Oval. Put it this way, we are not worried and will be well prepared for it.”
With the club’s history, playing in European football for two seasons in a row has been warmly welcomed by Glentoran fans.
What they really want when the new domestic campaign kicks off next month though is success in the league title race which has been dominated by fierce rivals Linfield in recent years.
In McDermott’s first full season in charge (2019-2020) you could say the Glens overachieved winning the Irish Cup but with a staggering investment in in new players in Irish League terms it is also fair to suggest they underachieved last term finishing third in the Irish Premiership and winning no trophies.
Being top dogs in the coming campaign has to be the ambition, though when asked about the club’s aims, surprisingly and perhaps shrewdly McDermott held back from going down that road.
“The target will be as it is every year to qualify for Europe,” he said.
“If your target is to qualify for Europe you want to be in the top one or two because that guarantees qualification otherwise you have to go through via the Irish Cup or European play-offs.
“This was the first year in 11 that we qualified through our league position.
“We thanked Linfield for winning the Cup and getting us in with our third place,” he added with a grin.
“Every year you want to earn automatic qualification for Europe.
“That’s the target. There are only two places for that to happen.
“With the squad we have and with the one or two we are going to bring in I think it will be an interesting season.”
Ahead of tonight’s Europa Conference League clash, McDermott’s team flew into the John Lennon Airport in Liverpool yesterday.
Big music fan and TNS manager Anthony Limbrick will hope it is his team in tune in Shropshire this evening.
“We may have ridden our luck with a couple of their chances in the first game but I thought we deserved a draw and it will be a different game at our place,” said the affable Australian.
“At 1-1 with their fans really up at the end of the game to not concede a second was a big thing for us and showed character in our team.
“We play on a 3G astro pitch which we think can be an advantage for us.
“It’s a very big pitch and we know it well and we like to play good football. It will be a tough game and we will see how we go.”
Glentoran will be aware of the danger that Smith can cause following his fantastic individual goal though as McDermott correctly pointed out for the TNS player to waltz past four defenders before slotting home was unacceptable.
On the class of Smith, Limbrick added: “We see him do it a lot in training. We were pleased he brought it out on the big stage.
“He has great ability. The challenge for him is to replicate that in more games.”
Defensively Glentoran will have to be strong which means big games from Luke McCullough and Patrick McClean in the heart of the back four.
Rhys Marshall impressed in midfield in the opening contest and will need to do so again this time while in attack the running power of Conor McMenamin and Robbie McDaid will be crucial. McDaid may have missed a golden opportunity at the Oval but he did set up McDonagh for the leveller and his ability to find space will be vital this evening.
It could be one of those occasions when McDaid shows he is still the top gun at the club and why Linfield have shown interest in signing him.
For the Oval boss there will be some selection calls to make including whether McDonagh starts given his super sub display, capped by his important goal.
McDermott said: “Jamie didn’t play a lot last year but he has trained well in preseason. That’s the Jamie you expect. Direct with a change of pace and getting balls into the box. That was a good performance and I’ve told him that.”
The Glens boss added: “At the Oval in the first leg the fans applauded us off the pitch and that doesn’t happen often when we draw because they expect performances so that shows what type of performance it was.
“We are relishing the challenge of the second leg and enjoy playing in Europe and we want to do that beyond this tie.”
The Glens have added 21-year-old striker Jordan Jenkins to their squad on the expiry of his contract at Glenavon where he spent four seasons.