All to play for now says Mick McDermott
Glentoran boss Mick McDermott last night hailed his boys following their battling performance against The New Saints in a thrilling Europa Conference League first round tie at the Oval.
Even though they fell behind to a first half wonder strike from Leo Smith, the East Belfast side – missing five first team regulars because of medical delays and Covid-19 isolations issues – turned in a superb second half display and deservedly levelled through Jamie McDonagh.
The Glens will now travel to Shropshire next Thursday night hoping to finish the job – the big prize is a second round meeting with either Europa FC of Gibraltar or Lithuanian side Kauno Zalgiris.
“The boys were superb in the second half and deserved to win the game,” said McDermott.
“We created all the big chances on the night and limited them in the second half.
“We will certainly travel next week with a great deal of confidence. Our two substitutes made a big impact and Jamie showed great composure to score his goal. It’s now set up for a great return leg.”
McDermott’s boys, backed by the partisan East Belfast crowd, began with a purpose and almost prised an opening on five minutes.
Rhys Marshall threaded a pass into the path of Robbie McDaid on the left channel and his low drive was grasped at the base of the post by goalkeeper Paul Harbinson.
But Anthony Limbrick’s side retaliated with the talented Adrian Cieslewicz cutting in from the left before letting fly, only to see his effort flash over the top.
The home fans were silenced on 13 minutes with Smith’s super strike. Having picked up the ball 30 yards out, he tricked and teased his way past challenge after challenge and when confronted by goalkeeper Dayle Coleing, he nonchalantly rolled the ball into corner of the net – a superb finish.
Glentoran attempted to come back off the ropes, with skipper Marcus Kane connecting with a Conor McMenamin corner kick, but his header was deflected over the crossbar.
Certainly, the Glens began to play with more urgency as the half progressed without creating any really clear-cut chances. That should have changed seconds before the interval when McDaid missed an absolute sitter – a chance that will give him nightmares.
Gael Bigiriman’s attempted shot was deflected into the path of the striker and, with only Harbinson to beat, he shamefully hoofed his effort wide.
McDermott’s side roared from the traps after the restart. Bigirimana and McMenamin combined cleverly on the right and, when the former Cliftonville man whipped in a great cross, Marshall could only direct his header over the bar.
Seconds later, McMenamin showed defender Ryan Astles a clean pair of heels in a right win dash, but Harbinson got down bravely to clutch the striker’s low cross.
The Saints, were quick and tidy on the break and they threatened to put the game out of their opponents’ reach when Declan McManus’s shot fizzed wide.
But they almost had better luck in their next attack when Cieslewicz curled in a beauty from the edge of the box only to see Coleing save brilliantly at full stretch.
Back came the Glens with Ruaidhri Donnelly producing a little piece of magic on the left only to see his cross slashed over his own crossbar by defender Keston Davies.
The Glens were almost level on 73 minutes. Striker Andy Mitchell had just replaced Donnelly, but was alert enough to meet a McMenamin cross, but his flick header was brilliantly saved by Harbinson.
But the home fans at last erupted eight minutes from time when McDonagh levelled. He picked up a pass from McDaid, showed great tenacity and hunger to get into the box and when Harbinson left his line, the substitute managed to flick the ball past him.
Glentoran should really have won the game in the closing seconds. McMenamin had a low drive beaten away by the legs of Harbinson before Marshall climbed high to meet a McMenamin corner kick only for his header to inch past the post.
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