Glentoran roared back from the dead to defeat Big Two rivals Linfield in a dramatic night at Windsor Park – and book their spot in the money-spilling Europa League play-off against Cliftonville on Saturday.
The East Belfast boys looked down and out when Kurtis Byrne and Andy Waterworth shot David Healy’s side into a two-goal lead.
But the Glens defied the odds and hammered in four sensational second half goals, from Dylan Davidson, John McGuigan, Willie Garrett and Curtis Allen, putting them within touching distance of a £200,000 windfall by qualifying for Europe.
Although Stephen Fallon relied late on for Blues. The performance simply summed up their season – substandard.
Glentoran were handed a boost just a few hours before the game when Allen was given the all clear to play after the IFA Appeal Committee rescinded a red card he received earlier in the season against Dungannon Swifts.
In contrast, Linfield boss David Healy had to hand rookier goalkeeper Alex Moor a starting slot for the injured Roy Carroll. The Blues were also missing the suspended Mark Stafford, Robbie Garrett and Andy Mitchell.
The Blues were almost caught cold after three minutes when Robbie McDaid caught Joe Crowe in possession. The midfielder sent John McGuigan racing through the middle only to see his shot blocked by a great challenge from the back-tracking Stephen Fallon.
Linfield missed a great chance to break the deadlock on 22 minutes when Stephen Lowry’s pin-point pass sliced open the Glens’ backline, but with only Elliott Morris to beat, Waterworth’s low drive was brilliantly saved by the shot stopper.
The action quickly switched to the other end and this time it was Glens’ midfielder Marcus Kane’s turn to hang his head in shame.
Johnny Addis’ long throw in fell for the skipper on the edge of the six-yard box, but he could only screw his shot across the face of goal with only Moore to beat.
But Byrne showed how to finish on 26 minutes. Kirk Millar whipped in a low ball from the right and, after taking a great first touch, the striker turned sweetly to blast a low drive into the bottom corner.
Glentoran were quick out of the traps after the restart with McDaid testing Moore with a thundering drive from the edge of the box that the young shot stopper did well to flick over the crossbar.
But it was the home fans were celebrating again on 51 minutes when Matty Clarke’s cross fell for Lowry, whose low drive was beaten away by Morris, but Waterworth was in like a flash to scoop into the net.
The visitors were back in it again on 63 minutes when referee Ian McNabb pointed to the spot after Callacher had hauled back Allen inside the box.
Substitute Dylan Davidson held his nerve to send Moore the wrong well from a well hit penalty kick.
Then, seconds later, Ross Redman’s free kick was knocked on by Willie Garrett for McDaid, who failed to get his shot on target.
But the Glens had better luck on 66 minutes when McGuigan motored on to a Kane pass before curling a wonderful drive around a stranded Moore, sending their army of fans into raptures.
And, it got even better for the now rampant Glens as Garrett headed them in front 11 minutes from time. Kirk Millar chopped down McDaid out on the left touchline and, when Redman flashed in a free kick, the defender got up above everyone else to send a header past Moore.
Allen sealed the deal by striking home a forth on 84 minutes and Fallon replied for the Blues, it was mere consolation.
LINFIELD: Moore, Crowe, Haughey, Callacher, Clarke (Campion 81), Millar, Lowry (Rooney 89) Fallon, Quinn, Waterworth, Byrne.
Unused subs: Casement, Carroll, McGuinness.
GLENTORAN: Morris, Garrett, Birney (Kerr 40), Addis, Redman, Gordon, Kane McGuigan (Ferrin 91), McMahon (Davidson 53), McDaid, Allen.
Unused subs: O’Hanlon, Kelly.
REFEREE: Ian McNabb (Coleraine).