Glentoran moved to within two points of Linfield at the Carling Premiership's summit with a dramatic 2-1 win over Cliftonville at Solitude last night.
Andy Waterworth was the champions' matchwinner, blasting home after good work from substitute Michael Halliday, but it would prove the former Distillery striker's last involvement; his over-enthusiastic celebrations earning his second booking of the evening.
Gary Hamilton, replaced by Halliday with 20 minutes to go, paid tribute to the men who combined to secure the points.
“It was fantastic work from Michael and a good finish from Andy,” he said. “It's unfortunate for him to pick up that red card but, as the fourth official explained to us, Linfield's Jim Ervin received the same punishment earlier in the season and the ruling is that he had to go.
“It's a shame for him because he's played so well and even worse because he'll now be suspended for the Co-Operative Insurance Cup final on Saturday.”
Another player who may miss that game is Keith Gillespie after the former Northern Ireland international left Solitude in an ambulance, suffering from a suspected broken nose following a clash George McMullan.
The Glens were ahead on just three minutes, Kyle Neill rising highest to nod beyond John Connolly following a Jamie McGovern throw-in from the right.
Cliftonville were level just five minutes later, though, Chris Scannell pouncing on some defensive hesitancy to coolly fire a left-footed finish beyond the despairing grasp of James Taylor.
Taylor's fine reaction stop kept McMullan at bay midway through the half while, at the other end, Richard Clarke dragged wide when presented with time and space on the edge of the area.
As news of Glenavon's lead at Windsor Park filtered through, suddenly both sides had the whiff of feint title glory in their nostrils.
Halliday showed dogged determination to keep the ball in play under immense pressure and then showed excellent composure to find Waterworth, whose right-footed strike forced its way in at the near post. His celebrations earned him a second booking and Glentoran were forced to play the final eight minutes a man light.
Hutton and Halliday had chances at either end late on, but it didn't matter as the east Belfast side held on to leapfrog the Reds into second place and, now just two points behind the Blues, they're back in the title race.
“It's still in Linfield's hands but things are a bit more interesting now,” added Hamilton. “I expect them to beat Institute on Friday
night and go on from there but it's important that, like tonight, we pounce on any slip-up.”
Home boss Eddie Patterson was proud of his players.
“Dick Turpin wore a mask,” was how he summed things up.
“We've been absolutely robbed out there. We've dominated 90 per cent of the play and I've never, ever seen a Glentoran team play so much hoof-ball in my life.
“Unfortunately, we've been caught out by one long punt which has come right down our throats. It's disappointing because of Linfield's defeat but we won't give it up. We're still in this.”
CLIFTONVILLE: Connolly, R Scannell, B Holland, Donaghy, McMullan, C Scannell, Caldwell, Boyce, Catney, O'Connor, Hutton. Subs: O'Hara, M Holland (for R Scannell, 82), Murphy (for Caldwell, 82), Jones, Clarke
GLENTORAN: James Taylor, Nixon, Neill, Clarke, Hamilton, Waterworth, Fitzgerald, Johnny Taylor, Hill, McGovern, Gillespie. Subs: Ward, Fordyce (for Gillespie, 67), Halliday (for Hamilton, 70), Burrows, Martyn (for Fitzgerald, 60)
Referee: Brian Turkington (Belfast)