Linfield 3 Glentoran 3
Extraordinary, exhilarating and entertaining. What a derby. What a finish. Six goals, two men sent off for Glentoran and an equaliser from Linfield's Jimmy Callacher with virtually the final touch of the game.
This may have been the first time the champions have failed to win in the league this season but by the end of a gripping contest David Healy's men were relieved to get out of Dodge.
After all that the gap between the table toppers and Glentoran is still 16 points. At one stage it seemed sure to be 19 and entering injury time it looked as though it would be 13. It was that sort of game. A roller coaster ride for the respective managers David Healy and Mick McDermott and both sets of fans.
Second half goals from Paul O'Neill, Jay Donnelly and Robbie McDaid were set to give the Glens the glory. McDaid's strike came on 87 minutes when the Glens were down to 10 men after goalkeeper Dayle Coleing was sent off. Then the visitors were reduced to NINE players in injury time with Seanan Clucas red carded for a crude challenge on Oval old boy Navid Nasseri.
That was followed by Callacher's clever header at the back post in the 95th minute to earn a draw for the Blues whose other goals came from Jordan Stewart and a Shayne Lavery penalty.
Ultimately this was a better result for Linfield than Glentoran, who, even if they win their two games in hand will be 10 points adrift of Healy's side.
That is a long way back. So too was the previous meeting between the sides on Boxing Day last year when Glentoran made it a happy Christmas with a crushing 3-0 victory at the Oval leading to McDermott famously telling jubilant supporters at a post match function that "the sun rises in the east".
After Linfield won last season's curtailed Irish Premiership making it three titles in four years for the Blues, Healy made the point: "We did our talking on the pitch. People talk about the sun rising in different parts of Belfast but the big trophies always land in the south of Belfast!"
The rivalry between the sides became even more intense the day after Glentoran won the Irish Cup on July 31 when Linfield announced they had signed Oval duo Nasseri and Conor Pepper.
Nasseri was on the bench for this encounter but Pepper started and was a threat down the right flank with Lavery dangerous on the other side albeit in a scrappy, tense opening half hour.
After collecting a pass from Kyle McClean, former Oval favourite Stewart took up the battle in the 33rd minute for the Blues on the left wing, skipping past Clucas who slipped at a crucial moment, before zinging in a cross which Glens goalkeeper Coleing found too hot to handle. As the ball looped up, Coleing lost his bearings and the ball hit his back and, in slow motion, bobbled into the net.
It was a shocking goal for the visitors to concede with Coleing making a mess of it. Come 49 minutes Linfield number one Chris Johns did exactly the same, gift wrapping an equaliser for McDermott's men.
Ciaran O'Connor, on as a half time substitute, pushed forward showing intent with his pass to Robbie McDaid who tried his luck from 25 yards. Johns should have gobbled it up but the ball bounced off him and the alert O'Neill closed in to net the rebound.
It was a horror show from the ex-Coleraine man who had made a strong start to his Linfield career following his summer switch.
On 65 minutes though there was another calamity involving Coleing which led to the Blues regaining their lead. A back pass from Clucas was too sharp for the Gibraltar ace and when he couldn't control it, Stephen Fallon nipped in with Coleing fouling him inside the box. Up stepped Lavery and although Coleing got his body behind the penalty he couldn't keep it out.
The Linfield advantage only lasted two minutes with Dale Gorman, son of Blues great Tony, delivering a pass his dad would have been proud of for Jay Donnelly to show awareness to reach the ball before the home defenders and composure to slot in to level the scores again. Donnelly, who was taunted by Linfield fans earlier, took off his Glentoran shirt and showed it to those in the Kop, a move which earned him a booking.
It was all happening now. On 75 minutes, Coleing was shown a red card after missing the ball and connecting with the onrushing Lavery who was streaking clear.
Rory Brown came on for the Glens with Chris Gallagher sacrificed and proceeded to save well from Kirk Millar and Stewart before Jay Donnelly's perfectly weighted pass gave Cup final hero McDaid the opportunity to score another big Windsor goal.
Patrick McClean then cleared off the line, Clucas saw red before Callacher had the final say.
LINFIELD: Johns, Pepper (Manzinga 80), Haughey, Callacher, Quinn, Mulgrew, McClean (Nasseri 72), Millar, Fallon (Shevlin 87), Stewart, Lavery. Subs not used: Walsh, Larkin, Clarke, Kearns.
GLENTORAN: Coleing, Clucas, Marron, McCullough, McClean, Gallagher (Brown 77), Gorman (Bigirimana 82), Stewart (O'Connor 46), O'Neill, McDaid, J Donnelly. Subs not used: Brown, Kane, McDonagh, R Donnelly, Plum.
Referee: Steven Gregg (Ballyclare)
Match rating: 8/10
Man of the Match: Jimmy Callacher (Linfield)