Win sees Glentoran close the gap at top of Danske Bank Premiership
High-Flying Glentoran are still on title track following this crucial win over Larne at the Oval.
Although the odds are still stacked against the East Belfast side reeling in David Healy’s Linfield at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership table, they cut the gap to seven points with the finish line on the horizon.
The victory also hardened their challenge for an automatic European qualification slot – they are now four points ahead of third-place Coleraine.
But the result was another blow to Larne’s hopes of nudging into the top three.
Goals from Rhys Marshall, Jay Donnelly and Fuad Sule, who fired into his own net, helped the Glens pocket another three vital points, while Mark Randall and Tomas Cosgrove replied for the visitors.
Both teams went for the jugular right from the off. Larne’s Marty Donnelly tried his luck with a 25-yard free kick, which flew over the crossbar after Caolan Marron lunched into Conor McKendry.
But it was Glentoran who drew first blood by taking the lead on nine minutes. Chris Gallagher’s shot rebounded into the path of Marshall, whose crisp, low shot, flashed into the bottom corner.
It was all-action stuff – and Larne were level on 20 minutes, but it’s a goal that will give the Glentoran defence nightmares. Tomas Cosgrove picked the pockets of both Gael Bigirimana and Ruaidhri Donnelly, backheeling the ball to John Herron, whose shot was blocked by Luke McCullough, but Randall pounced to thump home.
And, they required merely three more minutes to forge ahead. Dean Jarvis’ cross from the left was headed clear by Paddy McClean, but Cosgrove was first to react, and his low 20-yard drive fizzed past the outstretched gloves of Rory Brown.
The Glens had to reshuffle the pack on the half-hour after Marron sustained an injury – he was replaced by Ciaran O’Connor, with Marshall moving into the back four.
Glentoran were almost level on 52 minutes when Sule’s clearance almost fell for Ruaidhri Donnely only for Mitchell to make a smart save. Bizarrely referee Evan Boyce awarded a free just eight yards from goal.
Ruaidhri Donnelly’s shot rebounded off the defensive wall but fell to O’Connor, whose low drive was brilliantly hoofed off the line by Marty Donnelly.
Larne responded with Davy McDaid twisting and turning to create a yard of space, but his weak shot trickled wide before his header also drifted wide, when he really should have hit the target.
The Glens upped the ante and were almost level with 20 minutes left, Ruaidhri Donnelly gobbled up a sublime pass from O’Connor, but his shot was saved by the feet of Mitchell.
They had better luck 60 seconds later – courtesy of the Donnell brothers. Ruaidhri’s pass found Jay roaring through the middle and his finish was exceptional, firing low into the bottom corner.
But Larne were always dangerous on the break and, with 13 minutes left, Sule held his head in frustration when his 30-yard blockbuster fizzed inches over.
And, Sule’s agony continued on 80 minutes when he flicked the ball into his own net following and Andrew Mitchell corner kick – although goalkeeper Mitchell will have nightmares for his part in the winner.
GLENTORAN: Brown, Kane, McCullough, Bigirimana, Gallagher (Mitchell 61), R Donnelly, McDaid (Gorman 81), McClean, Marron (O’Connor 29), Marshall, J Donnelly.
Unused subs: Morris, McDonagh, Stewart, Crowe.
LARNE: C Mitchell, Watson, Herron, Sule, Randall (Mitchell 46), McDaid, Donnelly, McKendry (Wade Slater 61), Cosgrove, Hughes, Jarvis.
Unused subs: Hale, Scott, Lynch, Mottley-Henry, D’Sena.
REFEREE: Evan Boyce.
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