Irish League: Michael O’Connor nets winner for Linfield at The Oval

Linfield's Michael O'Connor celebrates his winning goal against Glentoran at The Oval.
Linfield's Michael O'Connor celebrates his winning goal against Glentoran at The Oval.

GLENTORAN 0 LINFIELD 1

Big Michael O’Connor hit the crucial winner in this disappointing Big Two clash at the Oval.

The 22-year-old striker rammed home a first half beauty that helped inch Linfield to within one point of Glenavon at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table.

It was ironic the Dundalk man emerged as the show stealer in the first confrontation of the season between the Belfast giants because he almost signed for Glentoran in the summer.

In fact, he was due to feature in a friendly fixture for the East Belfast side, but decided to join the Blues 24 hour earlier.

The result helped the Blues maintain their unbeaten start to the league campaign, while it was Glentoran’s first defeat since the opening day against Clifotnville.

It was a typical bruising Big Two dust-up that was littered with meaty tackles, misplaced passes and some bouts of petulance from both sides.

It was the Glens who asked the first questions of the Blues defence on nine minutes. Defender Josh Robinson conceded a needless corner kick when trying to find Roy Carroll with a back-header.

Ross Redman whipped in a great ball that eventually fell for former Celtic midfielder John Herron, whose ambitious scissors kick fell into the hands of a grateful Carroll.

The home fans were on their feet claiming a penalty when Robinson appeared to have a hold of Curtis Allen’s shirt inside the box, but referee Arnold Hunter wasn’t convinced.

But it was the big band of visiting fans that were celebrating O’Connor’s special strike on 15 minutes.

Joel Cooper led the Glens’ defence a merry dance, waltzing through tackle after tackle before picking out the Dundalk man, who drilled an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner – his fifth goal of the season.

Then, on 26 minutes, Kirk Millar’s corner, swirling dangerously in the gusting wind, totally deceived goalkeeper Elliott Morris, who was fortunate to see the ball hoofed off the line.

The Glens came roaring from the traps after the restart with Allen powering a Redman cross of the crossbar with the flick of his head.

Linfield were dealt a blow when Cooper was forced to limp off – he was the victim of some heavy challenge in the opening 45 minutes.

The home team should have been level on 53 minutes when Redman and Allen again combined.

This time the in-form striker, still looking for his 100th goal for the club, was left with a free header from Redman’s cross, but he managed to arrow his effort inches past the post, when it looked easier to hit the target.

After soaking up the pressure, the Blues could have been out of sight on 70 minutes. Substitute Niall Quinn picked the pocket of Steven Gordon and, when he whipped in a delicious cross from the left, O’Connor was only inches away from converting.

Seconds later, Robert Garrett jinked his way through the home defence, but with only Morris to beat, he shamefully sliced his shot wide of the target.

Back came the Glens. Another tantalising corner kick from Redman caused havoc which resulted in skipper Marcus Kane’s header being pawed clear by a relieved Carroll.

But it was the Linfield supporters that left with the Big Two bragging rights. It may not have been pretty, but the three points could be crucial come the end of the season.

GLENTORAN: Morris, Garrett, Kane, Birney, Herron, Allen, McGuigan (Byrne 69), Pepper, Crowe (Davidson 65), Gordon, Redman.

Unused subs: Nelson, Gallagher, McMahon, Ferrin, McCarthy.

LINFIELD: Carroll, Robinson, Callacher, O’Connor, Cooper (Quinn 48), Millar, Clarke, Kearns (Waterworth 80), Mulgrew, Garrett, Mitchell.

Unused subs: Nielsen, Stewart, Fallon, McGuinness, Deane.

REFEREE: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge).