Six Whole Years of Joy

In my last post about Glentoran I talked about how to keep the save alive, the keep it challenging and, more pertinently, interesting. Time for a bit of honesty, I don’t like being a dominant force in Football Manager. I enjoy the struggles of mediocrity. It might seem strange to some, maybe it’s a form of inferiority complex. Maybe it’s something much less deep and psychological.

In my fifth season, I came so close to completing a clean sweep of (non-continental) trophies but I faltered in the NIFL Cup. It was still such an incredible season but much like Nostradamus I had foreseen what was to come. Once you reach the peak there is only one direction to go…


Transfer Business

The movements this season need to have the scene set by two big departures.

Goalkeeper Aston Oxborough turned down an extension to make a move as a free agent to English Championship QPR. Oxborough racked up a ridiculous number of games over his three and a half seasons with us, 215 to be exact – that’s at least 19,350 minutes before we consider extra time and penalties! I have mentioned previously that I did expect to replace him at some point soon but I really wanted that to be on my own terms, as such my hand has now been forced.

Secondly, one I had already pre-empted in Umaro Landim. Our superstar on the wing had a stupidly low release clause of just £675k. He spent just a season at The Oval but managed 10 goals and 31 assists in 52 games, amazingly just 22 of those games played in the League. We should never have been able to sign a player of this calibre and he will go on to great things. With this in mind I negotiated a fee of £400k and 30% of any future fee to allow him to move on to Napoli – top AI management there.

We secured not just a replacement but definitely an upgrade on Aston in loan signing Lucas Bergstrom from Chelsea. I’m a big fan of ‘try before you buy’ and his contract at Chelsea expires at the end of this season so he’s essentially on a 12 month trial. Not quite an immediate upgrade here but Benfica youngster Joao Tomé is an exciting alternative for Umaro Landim on a season long loan, he has big shoes to fill already. The final summer signing was a third loanee and will primarly be a rotational option to bolster our defence – Liam Perry comes in for the season from Aston Villa.

I’ve made it my thing to go out in October/November in search of what I have christened as my ‘Danny Glovers’. This season we brought in another three experienced heads. Firstly Sidnei is a great option who actually would step in to become a first choice at centre back, he’s a perfect Ball Playing Defender for this level but frighteningly lacking in the physicals. Willian was an attractive signing to play second fiddle to Jamie Murphy on the left wing. The most exciting was definitely Sergio Aguero, my favourite Danny Glover of all. The Argentine hitman still has everything needed to be a top striker at this standard.

One last signing was made this season in January. Lars Unnerstall came in on a 6 month loan to provide vital cover between the sticks when Bergstrom was struck down with a muscular injury at a crucial point in the season.


It happened again. We looked set to complete an Invicible Season but were knocked back late on by Larne. Bloody Larne. That aside, we still set a record for games won, points won and goals scored. That Goal Difference is insane.

The results below show just how incredibly dominant we were, the league title really was never in doubt from the word go.


In Europe, we managed to get ourselves into the CL Group Stage for the second year running, drawing Chelsea once again. Those two wins over Club Brugge were enough to secure us third place and passage into the Europa League Knockout stage were Lille were just too good over the two legs, despite us taking a shock lead early on in the second leg.


We were undone in the NIFL Cup again, this time in the final by Larne. Bloody Larne.


Thankfully we did have the beating of Larne in the County Antrim Shield, going on the blast Cliftonville away in the final.


There would be no repeat of our success in the Scottish Challenge Cup as we disappointingly exited in our first round of participation.


The heartache continues as a side depleted by International Call Ups was destroyed at home in the second leg of the Irish Champions Cup.


There was some relief as we went on to win the Irish Cup yet again. Somewhat fittingly against bitter rivals Linfield.


And so, the season ends. I’d love to say we finished on a high but Those three cup losses stung hard although the bit that really hurt the most was not being able to complete an unbeaten league season!


Leaving A Legacy

I decided that, after six seasons, the time was right to take my leave from The Oval hotseat. I like to think I did it in classy fashion as my contract came to its natural end.

My main focus is always in leaving a club in a better state that when I arrived and it’s obvious that this is the case here. A squad capable of dominated for years to come, significantly upgraded Youth, Training and Data facilities, an accomplished backroom staff and a massive club account balance of £24million with the Jake Collum and Umaro Landim transfer fee clauses sitting waiting to be activated.

I will continue my journey as the Northern Ireland national manager but what is to come for my Glentoran? My predictions are that the squad will be sold off one by one for outrageously low fees and replaced by players on inflated wages brought in for stomach churning transfer amounts. I’ll keep a keen eye on progress as my international management goes on.

Northern Ireland: UEFA Nations League 2024

No sooner had we made our inglorious exit from Euro 2024 than we were ready to engage in the 2024 UEFA Nations League process. I really like this competition, sadly not a view that was widely shared in Northern Ireland footballing circles at its inception in 2018.

International friendlies (or International Challenge Matches as the associations tried to brand them) are an abhorrent mark on the footballing calendar, not least because they usually pit us against some rather uninspiring sides as give the potentials and the also-rans a go on the international stage. It usually ends up a tedious kick about between strangers with little moments of note. The introduction of a competitive round robin in their stead should have been more widely applauded.

Anyway, that’s not the viewpoint I’ll be taking on our 2024 involvement in this competition and we’ll go strong, aiming to continue Stephen Coyle and Choy Yiu Fai’s respective marches towards breaking the NI goalscoring record.


Due to our current position in world football we were drawn into League C, this followed the country’s relegation from League B in the 2022 competition. League C Group 2 would see us pit our strengths against such footballing heavyweights as Montenegro, Malta and Lithuania. Be confident.


Matchday 1 v Montenegro (away)

It was a glorious Glentoran day away in Podgorica as centre back Rory Lafferty opened the scoring in the first half befor Savicevic brought it back to level pegging. Our hero of the hour, Stephen Coyle, secured his fifth international goal. Choy played a full 90 minutes but couldn’t make it a hattrick of Glentoran Goals. Shame.

Coyler’s goal on his tenth appearance was so beautifully taken. As we recovered the ball from a poor corner routine, Coyle peels off nicely into space at the far side of the box. The ball from Matty Kennedy finds him well and the finish is well measured.


Matchday 2 v Malta (home)

The Windsor Park faithful were treated to a spectacle as we comfortably swept Malta aside. A Coyle brace and a first international goal for Choy!

Coyle’s first of the day was a great finish as he and ex-Larne midfielder Anthony Mitchell exchanged passes before Coyle’s powerful shot evaded the clutches of the Malta goalkeeper.

His second was a great reaction to Stuart Dallas’ blocked cross, Coyle moved quickly to get onto the loose ball and the nearpost and fire past the goalkeeper who was left with very little time to react.

A little under 10 minutes into the second half and it seemed that the Malta stopper just wanted to go home already. Matty Kennedy slipped a neat ball through for Choy who struck past the flapping arms of the poor Mediterranean custodian.


Matchday 3 v Lithuania (home)

Choy Yiu Fai missed out on the October double header due to injury but it was a day to forget for Stephen Coyle. The boy wonder missed not one but two penalties as he recorded a 5.6 match rating! His well placed cross for Paul Smyth’s late winner was perhaps the only thing to save him from a sub 5.0 for the day…

Coyle wearing No. 10 crossing for Smyth’s near post finish

Matchday 4 v Montenegro

With Choy still injured, Stephen Coyle recorded his second consecutive blank in front of goal on the international front, his longest non scoring streak for Northern Ireland during my tenure. What’s worse is, he didn’t even manage to record an assist to provide any silver lining.


Matchday 5 v Lithuania away

Coyler’s drought stretched out to three games as we left it late to impress. Leading 1-0 as the match reached its full 90, Cammy McGeehan and our very own Choy Yiu Fai popped up in added time to give us a more flattering scoreline.

At 5 feet 11 inches, we probably shouldn’t become accustomed to seeing Choy power in headers but this one was beautiful taken with the opposition defence all over the place with Choy totally unchallenged.

Unsure if that’s a flash of lightning or a computer freak out as the goal goes in…

Matchday 6 v Malta (away)

The Roman poet Sextus is credited with saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Admittedly, he probably wasn’t talking about international goal droughts but Stephen Coyle certainly came into this one with a hunger for glory. However, despite Coyle recording his second international double, it was Choy Yiu Fai who stole the show with a hattrick of assists earning him the Player Of The Match award.

Stephen Coyle’s first goal was all about the breakaway from Paul Smyth. Smyth recovered the ball on the corner of his own box before embarking on a pitch length dash, evading defenders left and right, then seeing his shot parried straight into the path of Stephen Coyle for the easiest of tap-ins.

Coyle will surely be picking up the drinks tab for his teammates after this game as it’s another gift of a finish for his second. This time, Choy reacts to one of those trademark FM goalkeeping shockers to strip the ball away and cross for Coyle to sidefoot home.

Goalkeeper (Defend) – an underrated role

Choy’s second assist of the evening came via a long ball from the left back. He runs the ball 20 yards forward on the corner edge of the box before switching it to his right foot and playing a low cross into the path of oncoming Hibs (and ex-Larne) striker Stephen Robinson who finished well.

For his third assist, Choy took the ball wide after a pass from Stephen Robinson following his run from the half way line. A lofted ball in was met beautifully by Robinson in the six yard box just before the hour mark.


UEFA Nations League C Group 2

A 100% win record is little more than we’d have demanded in a group like this. We made hard work of both Lithuania games but it was otherwise a joy to watch as we secured our promotion to the B level for the 2026 edition.


At the conclusion of the UEFA Nations League 2024 here’s how we are progressing towards the record:

David Healy: 95 caps / 36 goals

Stephen Coyle: 15 caps / 9 goals

Choy Yiu Fai: 8 caps / 2 goals

Northern Ireland: UEFA Euro 2024 (Germany)

Make-believe has, in part, echoed reality in my Football Manager universe. Naturally, the circumstances are much different however as I took over the reins from departing manager Michael O’Neill I was stepping straight into a play off for the European Championships. In November 2023, Michael O’Neill moved on to take over at ailing Birmingham City who were fighting against relegation from the EFL Championship. It’s been very well scripted.


I would have to wait until March 2024 for my first match in charge of the International squad, straight into the big time in our European Championship Qualifiers Play Off Semi-Final against lowly Luxembourg.

It’s important not to lose sight of the real aim here which is not necessarily success for Northern Ireland but, instead, having David Healy’s goalscoring record surpassed. Surpassed by a Glentoran player no less.

Upon taking control, Stephen Coyle had already earned 3 international caps but the Carrickfergus native was yet to enjoy his first goal on the big stage. Our second candidate Choy Yiu Fai was yet to even reach the underage sides for Northern Ireland.

Spoiler – Coyler scores goals

Play Off Semi-Final v Luxembourg

A win, as expected, but more importantly it’s a first international goal for Stephen Coyle!

Admittedly, Coyle’s first international goal is not one that will be replayed time and time again in any sort of Greatest Goals montage. A product of some suspect defending/goalkeeping and a large slice of good fortune, here it is in all its glory:

Goalscorer turned provider in the second half as Stephen Coyle’s pinpoint cross was converted by Conor Washington at the near post:

Play Off Final v Slovenia

The odds were not in our favour despite home advantage but the Windsor faithful played their part in pushing us to a cheeky 2-1 victory in extra time thanks to a duo of penalty kicks that secured a glorious comeback. A welcome return to a European Championship just 8 years since our last!

Conor Washington converted our first half equaliser but the crucial moment in the 106th minute was handed to Stephen Coyle. Despite not even being our designated taker at Glentoran, Coyler tucked it away with ease to claim his second international goal on his fifth appearance!

It’s a penalty, what did you expect to see?

We’d be on our way to Germany for Euro 2024 in a difficult group with Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland. First, we’d have a warm up friendly back home in Belfast against Belgium.

Friendly v Belgium

We matched them fairly well for most of this game but Belgium were just too strong in the end. 90 minutes for Stephen Coyle included an assist for Lee Harkin’s first international goal on his debut. There was an international debut for our second candidate Choy Yiu Fai – the NI/Hong Kong man got 29 minutes from the bench as he replaced Conor Washington.

Coyle’s assist made him look more like a young Keith Gillespie than David Healy as he jinked his way past the full back before making it to the byline to cross.


Suitably prepared with our solitary friendly warm-up fixture, we said Hallo to Deutschland. In my real life football travels following Northern Ireland, I’ve had the joy of visiting two fantastic German stadia. However my virtual travels would allow me to tick a further three venues off the bucket list.


EURO 2024 v Netherlands (Red Bull Arena)

Our finals campaign got off to the best possible start with a hard fought draw against Netherlands. After being scoreless at the half, the star studded Dutchmen took a second half lead through Inter Milan’s Donny van de Bee. However, our star man Stephen Coyle pegged them back just two minutes later to secure a point!

The reaction, the technique! It’s almost reminiscent of Zinedine Zidane v Leverkusen.

Our back up choice for this challenge, Choy, grabbed another 22 minutes from the bench but with no success to note.


EURO 2024 v Poland (Stadion München/Allianz Arena)

I’ll admit to a level of complacency going into this match off the back of a strong performance in our opener. However Poland’s striking duo were just far too strong, Milik still shining in Naples while Piatek is lighting it up in Spain with Real Madrid.

Not losing sight of the real aim here, the good news is that Coyler grabbed himself another goal to help his stock continue to rise. Despite only measuring up at 5’10”, Stephen Coyle leaps like a freshwater salmon to head home his second of the tournament in a brief, but ultimately ill-fated, fightback.

It was another fruitless sub appearance for Choy, this time he was on the pitch for a total of 36 minutes.


EURO 2024 v Switzerland (Olympiastadion Berlin)

We went into this one with faint hopes of qualifying from our group but Breel Embolo set the tone with his early goal. Matty Kennedy revived our hopes for a short period before Embolo struck again. Damn you, FM16 wonderkid!

To compound my misery, neither of our prospective record breakers managed to even have a hand in the goal we scored. Choy continued his progress toward the starting XI by getting the full second half here… without actually making an impact.


Taking stock after my first year in charge, I’m delighted with the progress Stephen Coyle has made in the squad – how could I be anything else?

Following EURO 2024 we stand as follows:

David Healy: 95 caps / 36 goals

Stephen Coyle: 9 caps / 4 goals

Choy Yiu Fai: 4 caps / 0 goals

A New Adventure

Heaven’s gates have never looked so good

At the beginning of my fifth season with Glentoran, I feel it a good time to take stock of the progress and look at what comes next.

2022/23 (Season Four) took our total trophy count up to 10, in no small part due to our domestic clean sweep of trophies last season. It’s clear that we’re now in a position to dominate on the pitch and, with an unprecedented £20m in our bank balance, very secure off the pitch also.

With this in mind, it’s time to condense the usual season update before discussing what my plans are for the future.


Transfer Business

The summer transfer moves started before last season had even ended with pre-contract deals agreed with Umaro Landim (Wolves), Jack Clarke (Luton Town) and Stephen Coyle (Crusaders). Landim and Clarke were free transfers but the Coyle move cost us a handsome fee of £250k – our highest transfer paid but one which I feel will definitely be paid off in no time.

I brought in promising full back Danny Lally (Cobh Ramblers) for the paltry sum of £3.7k alongside my two newest elder statesmen: Craig Cathcart and Blaise Matuidi – both on free transfers although Matuidi not joining until October!

Fast forward to January and there were a further three additions to the squad. Making moves to strengthen from within the league is a double-edged sword for the opposition as it also weakens their own options. As such I was delighted to bring in NI-U21 internationals Barry Lavery (£60k from Glenavon) and Jamie Murphy (free from Crusaders). A final move was made to secure a next level player in Rubinho (Tottenham), on a loan for the remainder of the season.

With so many players in, it may be surprising that there was only one outgoing transfer, but it was a major one. 20 year old Jake Collum came to us in January 2022 on a free transfer from Plymouth and I said at the time that I envisaged him moving on before long. So, after 46 goals in 107 games from the left of midfield, Collum has moved on to Scottish giants Rangers for an incredible fee of £1.2m – an amount that was far too good to turn down. When English-born Collum first arrived he was a promising U21 international for Northern Ireland but his stock has risen so much that he now feels confident of breaking into the England national squad.


2023/24 Danske Bank Premiership Table

The league was always going to be a formality in my eyes. We were on fire from the point the season kicked off, only incurring one loss, at the hands of Crusaders in early December. As you can see below, we simply just blew most teams away with ease managing to score 5 or more goals in ten different league games.

Oh, and don’t forget to raise a glass to state-funded Linfield who will be plying their trade in the Championship next season…


We went one further than last season’s European exploits by qualifying for the Champions League group stage! One win from six matches left us bottom of the group but a proud showing, particularly in managing to score 5 goals against Atlético and 3 against Chelsea alongside our 5-1 victory away at Zenit.


For the first time since the opening season, we have fallen short in the NIFL Cup. Knocked out convincingly in the Quarter Final by Ballymena. There will be no clean sweep this season…


The disappointments are few and far between though. A third consecutive County Antrim Shield win to take back to The Oval. Stephen Coyle was the hero of the final against his former club.


The Scottish Challenge Cup yielded success for a Northern Irish side for the first time! Some very pleasing results against potentially challenging opposition, particularly that semi-final outcome.


The Irish Champions Cup final was a truly epic encounter. After a 1-1 draw at The Oval, we found ourselves 3-1 down in the second leg at Oriel Park by Half Time. Up stepped Stephen Coyle who put on a second half master class to bring home the trophy and maintain our 100% success rate in the competition.


Champions League progress, Scottish Challenge Cup and All Ireland Cup wins are great but the Irish Cup will always be a special competition for me, and this is why I’ve left it to last. We met old foes Glenavon in the final and played out a spectacle for the 16,650 fans in attendance.


Another five medals to add to the collection in my fifth season at Glentoran. The squad is brimming with players who could be considered key to the efforts, and the stats show as much.

2023/24 Season Stats (All Competitions)

Another 71 appearances for Aston Oxborough, a player I had considered replacing. To my knowledge, the English goalkeeper hasn’t missed a minute of football since signing in January 2021.

Ciaran McKenna topped the tables in headers won/90min (7.83) and interceptions/90min (5.20). Jack Lee a close second behind him in both counts.

New boy Umaro Landim led the way in assists with 31 in his 52 appearances, with a further 10 goals for himself. Jake Collum’s 19 assists and 17 goals in 42 appearances before his January move cannot be ignored either.

Up front, the gamble on Coyle paid off massively. The 20 year old registered 52 goals of his own in 62 appearances with a further 17 assists laid on for his team mates. Pavel Macej came roaring back from his serious 6 month injury last season to bag 40 goals and 20 assists in 50 appearances.

One name you will notice is Choy Yiu Fai – a Belfast born striker with Hong Kong dual nationality. He came through in this year’s Youth Intake and has been bled into the senior squad in the latter stages, grabbing himself 3 goals and 3 assists in 2 league appearances. Very much one I expect a lot from in the near future.


A New Adventure

I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to become this dominant with Glentoran just five seasons in. The European money makes such a massive difference but it was also just a matter of picking up the right players at the right time.

At this stage there are usually a few options available to keeping the save challenging. One is to try and spread the wealth in the league and raise the country’s reputation to compete better in Europe. Sadly, I don’t subscribe to such philanthropic methods.

When Michael O’Neill resigned from his role as Northern Ireland manager in November 2023, it felt like the challenge I needed.

So, what is my aim from here? I don’t have grand ideas of winning major international titles. What I do want to do is to nurture a player through to become Northern Ireland’s new record goalscorer. I want that player to come from Glentoran.

From here, I feel that there are two obvious candidates: Stephen Coyle (signed from Crusaders) or Choy Yiu Fai (GFC Academy Graduate). May the best man win…

Alexander Fleming’s 4-4-2: The Matches

Even when a tactic brings overwhelming success, it can still be a useful exercise to sit back and analyse what has been going right and what hasn’t. Despite only losing 4 times in the league during a season that my Glentoran side claimed a total of five trophies, there are still obvious elements which I would like to improve.

I’ve talked about my thought process when setting up the current 4-4-2 tactic and now I want to look at two matches that show its Jekyll and Hyde.


Firstly, let’s look at an occasion when things didn’t quite go to plan.

Context:

Larne were our closest rivals for the league title in Season Four and, at this point, were the source of our only league loss in our 28 league games played so far. I’ve discussed previously how Larne have had similar real life investment to ourselves and as such have a massively inflated wage bill by Irish League standards. Only 8 days prior to this fixture they had made a deadline day swoop for our own Conor Bradley for a huge sum of £500k. This is added to the free signing of our youth goalkeeper Andrew Hughes on the same day and a £76k signing of Markus Assarsson from us in the summer transfer window’s deadline day rush.

Line-Ups:

Larne started all three signings they’d made from us this season with ex-Liverpool trainee Conor Bradley probably the one I feared most. Larne’s starting XI were a fairly youthful side with only three players over the age of 20.

With this game delicately poised midweek during a busy period, four days after an Irish Cup 6th Round tie and three days before the NIFL Cup Final, there was some slight rotation in the side. Paddy McClean deputised at left back and Liam Maguire was called upon to fill in for top scorer Niklas Haugland. Experienced pro Antonio Candreva started on the right side of midfield.

Match Stats:

The statistics don’t provide the full picture of any match but, as below, there are a few areas which gave great concern. While possession may have been even, Larne were most prominent in their passing of the ball, attempting a full passes more than us over 90 mins (and completing an additional 56), they were more successful in the tackle and won more of the aerial duels. Of the 13 shots we managed on goal, almost half of those were not on target (with a further 2 blocked en route).

When we look at the average positions, it looks largely as I would expect it to. Perhaps the telling aspect of this image is the heat map. I’m not particularly concerned about the large periods of possession on the edge of our own box – we are comfortable with the ball here and build a lot of attacks from goalkeeper/defence. What stands out for me is that We have held the ball a lot more out wide on the left than the right. This is contrary to the roles I have selected of an inverted winger left and a natural winger right – this is a first warning sign for me that we just weren’t able to play our designed game.

When looking at our figures, we had 5 key passes noted. The passmap shows that all of these passes were going wide and away from goal. This was an area we were having very limited success in as 16 of our 22 cross attempts were intercepted by Larne.

The goal that won it for Larne was as simple as they come. A long ball from the goal kick, over the top of the defence and slotted home neatly.

Conclusion:

What can the takeaway from this performance be? It was one of very few losses over the course of the season so perhaps we mark it down as an anomaly. Maybe it was the fault of the rotation, the fatigue of a hectic playing schedule or just maybe a 36 year old Antonio Candreva on the wing isn’t quite the dynamism you need to take on a youthful opposition.


There’s more to be gained by analysing what went wrong rather than what went right but what is the point of playing Football Manager if you can’t bask in the glory of those games where everything just goes right?

Context:

Linfield are the most successful club in Northern Ireland. They’re also the most hated club in my household. Traditional rivals to Glentoran, the Blues make up the other half of what is known as the Belfast Big Two… or the Belclasico if you’re so inclined.

I’m not sure why Linfield have struggled throughout my save but having finished 4th in 2019/20 they then narrowly escaped relegation on the final day of the following season. A 6th place finish in 2021/22 got them back into European competition via the playoff but a 7th place finish this season has put them right back into the bottom half of the league.

Line-Ups:

This is it. Our strongest XI. A few games before Pavel Macej’s season ending injury, he partnered the equally prolific Niklas Haugland up top. Conn-Clarke, Hunt and Collum give plenty of forward running while Palmer sits deep to dictate the play. Doherty and Pepper provide support on the flanks while McKenna and McClean are resolute in their defence. Beautiful.

Linfield’s XI doesn’t strike any fear into me whatsoever. Ben Paton was on trial with us before he signed for Linfield and I decided he wasn’t up to the standard. If that’s the sort of club they are now then so be it…

Match Stats:

We dominated from start to finish, so much so that we only actually had 10 tackles to make in the whole game.

This heatmap and average positions is much more like what I want to see! Both forwards working in tandem, Jake Collum (10) becoming more involved centrally. I’d possibly like to have seen Conn-Clarke (7) play a bit wider but it’s hard to be critical. Let’s just enjoy this.

Let’s get straight into the goals now!

The first offering is a well taken headed goal from Mackenzie Hunt (Mezzala – Attack) courtesy of an inch perfect cross from Cammy Palmer (DLP – Defend)

1-0: Mackenzie Hunt

Conor Pepper (Full Back – Support) has become a bit of an assist king for us, perfectly illustrated by this cross from the right, headed in by Pavel Macej (Pressing Forward – Attack)

2-0: Pavel Macej

The benefits of having a 6 foot 4 inch winger are many, not least of all this headed goal from Chris Conn-Clarke (Winger – Support). A near carbon copy of our first as Josh Doherty’s throw is received by Palmer and crossed to the edge of the six-yard box for the headed finish.

3-0: Chris Conn-Clarke

Cammy Palmer turns from provider to scorer with our fourth successive headed goal. Conor Pepper getting his second assist of the day from an expertly delivered wide free kick.

4-0: Cammy Palmer

I’ve had to speed the play up here slightly to convey the true majesty of this goal. Mackenzie Hunt takes the ball on a familiar run toward goal, passes to substitute Conor Bradley (Pressing Forward – Attack) who supplies top scorer Niklas Haugland (Advanced Forward – Attack) for a sublime cross goal finish.

5-0: Niklas Haugland

The cherry on the top now, watched in glorious 2D. Winning the ball in our own box, two passes later the ball is at Hunt’s feet. Our mesmerising mezzala goes on a trademark run before his through ball is met perfectly by Macej for the Czech striker’s second of the day. In truth there are questions to be asked of the defence and goalkeeper here but at 6-0 they were probably looking forward to just getting home…

6-0: Pavel Macej (2)

Conclusion:

What more can be said? A rout against our most bitter of rivals. Everything went right, goals from crosses, goals from set pieces, perfect build up and incisive counter attacking. This is the Fleming 4-4-2 at its absolute finest.


This tactic has been a revelation for me and, in my fourth season, has now truly just bedded in so perfectly. With the right template of player in each role things have landed so well.

103 goals scored in 38 league games with only 25 conceded. 29 wins and 5 draws giving us a final tally of 92 points.

Aside from the Irish Premiership we also secured all three domestic cup competitions along with the All Ireland Champions Cup. We reached the group stages of the Europa League, qualifying from our group in 2nd place.

Alexander Fleming, you bloody genius. Perhaps some day there’s a Nobel Prize waiting for me…

Alexander Fleming’s 4-4-2: The Tactic

Serendipity /ˌsɛr(ə)nˈdɪpɪti/ (noun):

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Sir Alexander Fleming famously made the effective discovery of Penicillin by “accident”. One of the best known quotes attributed to Fleming is “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for” – pure serendipity.

I’m not going to claim that my FM20 tactic is as revolutionary as the discovery of one of medicine’s greatest turning points but I feel there is some similarity in the nature of how it developed.


I have never made a secret of my methods in creating a Football Manager tactic. There’s no clear path to its completion, it is mostly just tinkering until I find what works!

I start with the base objective that is key to winning football matches. I want to score as many goals as possible while simultaneously conceding as few goals as I can. It is a very simplistic view but its merits cannot be disputed.

I’ll start with a basic shape or formation depending on the players I have at my disposal – if my strengths are on the wing I’m not going to play a narrow formation. This is how I began FM20, by starting out with a 4-2-3-1 aiming to make use of the talented wide men I had in my squad. By the end of my first season this became a 4-4-2 which I then implemented fully from season two onwards – the reasoning was simple, I wanted to add more goals while also stopping us giving up so much space on the flanks while defending.


The following set up is the culmination of four years of chopping and changing. I’m happy with its execution as evidenced in our results over seasons three and four.

Below, I will explain some of the thinking behind particular elements. Despite what I have said, the tactic is not a product of randomness in its entirety – just several parts of it.

Team Instructions

MENTALITY: I want to play the old cliché of “free-flowing, attacking football”, as simple as that.

IN POSSESSION: I’ve always tended to opt for Pass Into Space and Run At Defence as I feel it benefits us to use the pace and dribbling of skillful wingers to create openings in the opposition defence.

IN TRANSITION: Counter-Press and Counter – again, simple. Win the ball back and take it toward goal.

OUT OF POSSESSION: All of this is geared toward is geared toward the goal of winning the ball back more quickly. We press more, we press higher and we mark tighter.

Player Roles

Sweeper ‘Keeper (Defend): I want the goalkeeper to be confident with the ball at his feet. Slightly more adventurous than the standard Goalkeeper but no need for heroics by rushing from his own 18 yard box unnecessarily. A height of 6 foot 3 inches is an absolute minimum.

Full Backs (Support): With the attacking mentality they should naturally play slightly higher up the pitch but cautious of being caught out. Marking and Tackling are key attributes with Passing, Dribbling and Crossing important supporting attributes. I place a lot of value on physical fitness for this position – quick, strong players who can withstand a heavy workload of matches. Being versatile enough to push forward into a wide midfield role is a definite advantage.

Ball Playing Defenders (Defend): It was FMGrasshopper’s piece in Latte Quarterly Issue One which changed my perception of this role. As FMG explains, it’s not simply to be seen as a modern day ‘baller’ who will always look to step out from the defensive line and carry the ball forward. This role has an eye for the long defence splitting pass – potentially a slight contradiction my TI of play out of defence – this offers an alternative to the measured ground based build up play and can totally catch a defensive unaware. My centre backs must be at least 6 foot 2 inches, no exceptions.

Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend): Sitting slightly deeper in the pitch, prepared to take the ball from the defence and play a killer pass. He also plays a vital role in protecting the back four from opposition runs through the middle. Tackling, Passing, Anticipation, Positioning, Vision and Work Rate are obvious attributes I look for here. Dictates Tempo and Likes To Switch Ball are preferable traits for this role to encourage the play to go wide at the right moments.

Mezzala (Attack): I love this role! It gives so much of a positive impact in attacking movements and the right player in this role can really be the key to unlocking a stubborn opposition defensive line. Aligning with my TIs, this player tends to win the ball quite high up the pitch before making a beeline for the box. Dribbling, Off The Ball and Acceleration are what I like to see from a player here and I encourage the learning of the Runs With Ball Through Centre trait.

Winger (Support): Very simple here: get the ball to feet, run at the defenders and get a good cross in. The support role rather than attack will put less of an emphasis on being in the final third and should have the player adequately positioned to transition into a defensive action if possession changes. Crossing, Dribbling, a little bit of Flair along with Acceleration and Pace.

Inverted Winger (Attack): I want this player’s focus to be all about the movement toward the opposition box, they’ll be sufficiently covered defensively by the players around them. Cut inside, and create chances for others by playing through balls or take the onus on themselves and carve out their own shooting chance. The Cuts Inside traits are helpful here but my favourite for this position is Gets Forward Whenever Possible. It makes sense to have a right footed player in this role playing from the left.

Pressing Forward (Attack): Fitting with the team’s playing style, we press early and from the front. This player will often be the one to profit from defensive errors from the other team and so should be ready to pounce. Sitting ever-so-slightly deeper than his strike partner, this player will be expected to contribute assists as well as scoring goals themselves. Physically solid with an impressive Work Rate.

Advanced Forward (Attack): I like to see goals from all areas of the pitch but this is the main guy. He’s expected to lead the scoring charts year on year, although I’d be happy to see him provide assists it isn’t something I’ll judge him on. He should have the Acceleration and Pace to terrify a defence along with the obvious need for decent Finishing, Composure, Technique and Off The Ball.


With the Roles, TIs and above considerations this leads to a tactic that has provided me with quite a lot of success. The team are potent goalscorers with contributions coming from all areas of the pitch.

The below image shows the location of our assists over the previous 40 domestic league matches (as close to a full season as the selections allow). As you would expect, the central area of the pitch is where we find the most joy, however, the remaining assists have a fairly even spread across the flanks, from deep and inside the box. This proves that the style of play provides us with several routes to goal rather than solely relying on an outstanding winger or a prolific assister behind the striker.


A textual analysis can only provide so much information, so in my next post I will also have a look directly at two games which I feel show not only the strengths that I have discussed but also a time when we have come totally unstuck.

Through The Looking Glass

If the signing of Antonio Candreva was an indication of giving realism the boot then this update takes realism and gives it a proper hoof into touch for a goal kick.

Our exploits in Europe have left the club with £6 million burning a hole in our pockets and I’ll be damned if we’re not going to enjoy it.


January Moves

The first signing of this window is a typical fmadventure signing. 19 year old Liam Maguire has bags of potential and an absolute steal as we bag him on a free at the expiration of his contract with League of Ireland side Limerick. Unfortunately Limerick have just been relegated but Maguire’s 11 goals in 35 games for them at such a raw age shows he has big things to come.

When Arturo Vidal and Keisuke Honda became available, I couldn’t help but to move for them. Both, along with Antonio Candreva, are set to retire at the end of this season but I’m hoping I can make use of them on and off the pitch for the remaining six months of their careers. Just look at how versatile Vidal is… a thing of beauty!

There were two deadline day departures from The Oval. Firstly, Tom Adeyemi was shifted on to Dumbarton on a free transfer in order to free up some of the wage budget for our new big name signings. Following that, we allowed Conor Bradley to move on to free-spending Larne. Larne made an offer totalling £500k and that profit margin on a free signing just 18 months earlier was hard to turn down!


It seems most appropriate to get the European business out of the way before discussing how things went domestically. Given an amazingly difficult tie against Fiorentina, it won’t be surprising to note that we exited the competition in the First Knockout Round – although I should note their two late goals did come as a result of counter attacks following our decision to go all out to try and level the tie.


January 2023

We kicked off the New Year with a 4-0 victory over local side Dundela, sadly this marked Conor Bradley’s last goals for the club before his month toward the end of the month. On the road again, we made short work of Ballymena as a total of six different goalscorers put them to the sword – Liam Maguire scoring his first Glentoran goal.

Cliftonville came to The Oval and gave us their best performance against us in a long time, sadly for them, it still wasn’t enough and Niklas Haugland’s goal was the difference. Buoyed by our current winning streak (9 wins in a row, unbeaten in 14) we went out with confidence and secured our second competition win of the season with a 2-0 win in the County Antrim Shield against Larne.

We had to come from behind against Glenavon to steal a point, gifting Glenavon the chance to remain in a potential title race for now. Our frustrations were simply moved on to be taken out on Crusaders as we pushed them aside with ease to claim the two goal victory.

February 2023

We marched on in the Irish Cup as Keisuke Honda scored his first Glentoran goal in a 4-0 win over Portadown – no, it wasn’t a freekick! A short trip to Larne in the league provided only our second league loss this season, the previous loss being another 1-0 loss to Larne at Inver Park…

Perhaps this put some self doubt in our minds as we really struggled against Crusaders in the NIFL Cup Final, needing extra time for Ciaran McKenna to find the winner with his headed attempt. Still, three cups, three wins so far.

Liam Maguire was given a 90 minutes against Portadown and showed why I moved for him as he bagged his first hattrick for the club before we travelled to Windsor Park to record yet another victory over Big Two rivals Linfield. You have to go back to December 2020 to find the last time Linfield managed to win one of these derby fixtures.

March 2023

Ballymena’s two late goals sent our knees knocking ever so slightly but we held tight to ensure passage through to the semi-final of the Irish Cup! The Newry match was almost a carbon copy as we raced into an easy three goal lead before sitting back and almost allowing them back into it! A short footballing month for March ended with a confident 3-0 win away to Carrick to inch us ever closer to a second consecutive league title as we entered the post split fixtures.

April 2024

Larne, bloody Larne! Our, now, closest rivals for the title. A win would have left us needing simply a point in our next game to win the league but Larne were not ready to lie down as they condemned us to our third league defeat of the season – all three, incredibly, taking place at Larne’s Inver Park!

It looked for a while that the same was about to happen in our Irish Cup Semi-Final fixture with Larne but Haugland and Maguire came through in extra time to put us through to our third consecutive Irish Cup Final!

Ballymena came to the East but were sent back with a mere consolation goal. Glenavon were next and at this point, all that was required was a point to secure the league title – a point was not on our minds and Liam Maguire, Chris Conn-Clarke and Jake Collum sealed the title in emphatic fashion with a 3-0 win. TWO IN A ROW!

With the league won and an Irish Cup Final to come, I chose to rotate some of the squad for the next two fixtures and move things around tactically. Maybe the lads had already given up and were celebrating too heavily as we only managed a point over two games – although that point was enough to ensure we set the record high for points gained in a Irish Premiership season with 92.


As always, the season ends with the showpiece of local football – the Irish Cup Final! This is our third consecutive Irish Cup Final, all three against a Mid-Ulster side and the second of those against Glenavon. It’s a chance for revenge after Glenavon’s win over us last year ruined our chance of a domestic clean sweep!

In front of a bumper crowd of over 15k, we outplayed Glenavon from start to finish to secure the club’s 24th Irish Cup win! This Irish Cup win provides us with a clean sweep of domestic trophies along with the All-Ireland Champions Cup making a beautifully named Quintet!

I’m not one to claim reserve and youth victories as my own but it is worth mentioning that our Seconds team also nabbed the NI Intermediate Cup while the U18’s won their league at a canter. The future’s bright, the future is orange red, green and black!


I always like to end the season with a quick look through the individual player stats across key areas. Partly to try and identify any areas we may be lacking in but mostly just for pure vanity.

I don’t really like to rotate my goalkeepers, so it’s no surprise to see Aston Oxborough play a total of 71 games through this season. He’s managed 32 clean sheets but the fact that his average rating is indicative of some of his performances. An increasing number of the 65 goals he did concede came by way of means that I feel he should have done better – near post shots, fumbles. I may look to upgrade on him in the near future.

Conor Pepper leads the way again in assists from right back with 24 in his 54 appearances. It’s not just full back hackz, it’s also set piece delivery hacks…

Niklas Haugland claims the top goalscorer award for his 38 goals in 58 games played, averaging 2.6 shots on target per 90 mins played.

However, my player of the season goes to Jake Collum. Still only 19 years old, the left winger has contributed 22 goals and a further 21 assists over his 49 matches. He covers the most ground per 90 mins, which is no surprise when you see how he marauds in from the left hand side toward goal. He is also the most creative player in the team with 2.26 Key Passes per 90min and 1.13 chances created per 90 min. It’s not just his attacking output that is to be admired but also his ability in winning the ball back with 2.29 tackles per game.

Czech Mate :-(

After our Europa League Playoff heroics, things are going to be tight this season. We’re competing on so many fronts and the squad isn’t really big enough to cope. Despite this problem, I’m making the decision not to prioritise any particular competition. The league remains important in my board’s eyes, I’m keen to complete domestic clean sweep, I’m exctied at my first ventures into the All Ireland Champions Cup and Scottish Challenge Cup and finally, any potentially draw or win prize money from Europe is too good to turn my nose up at!


The transfer window had already closed when this particular player cropped up on my radar in October. As such, he’d be ineligible for the league and Europe until January. It would be a hefty wage to pay for a glorified reserve and cup player… but I couldn’t resist! 35 year old Antonio Candreva becomes what I consider to be my first marquee signing of the save. I also moved to sign English defender Jack Lee who had been a free agent since his summer release from Sheffield Wednesday.


September 2022

Our first league fixture in September allowed us to test ourselves against Glenavon, who would almost certainly challenge for the title again this year. Robbie McDaid and Niklas Haugland secured a valuable win to set down our own marker for the season ahead. There was no such luck in our next outing as we were reduced to ten men on 88 minutes and conceded the losing goal on 89 minutes to a resurgent Larne team.

As Portadown came to The Oval we relied on an early Macej penalty to see us claim the points, it was a leggy affair and seemed that our summer adventures may have been taking their toll already. However, we bounced back in superb form to secure an emphatic Belclasico win over Linfield at Windsor before grinding out another 1-0 away to Carrick – again thanks to Pavel Macej.

October 2022

October was a very fruitful month for us in the league. 16 points from a possible 18, good going.

The rotation in the squad (necessary by way of so much football being played) is clear to see in the names of our goalscorers this month. Consecutive 2-0 victories kicked us off away to Dungannon and then at home to Newry City. Jake Collum recorded his first leg goal since early August, after returning from a lengthy injured spell, in our 5-1 hammering of Coleraine.

A trip to Mourneview seemed like it was going to be a horror show as we went into the half time break three goals down, a rousing team talk kicked a glorious comeback into effect as the game finished 3-3. Cliftonville have become accustomed to hammerings from us and it has actually been seven league games since the last time they even scored against us! October closed out with a 3-0 win over Crusaders with Tom Adeyemi’s name a rare sight on the team sheet, never mind score sheet.

December 2022

Due to the 2022 World Cup scheduling and our own cup competitions, there were no league games played in November so we skip straight ahead to December!

Larne took points off us for the second time this season as we were held to scoreless home draw. The goals flowed freely from that point on as a Pavel Macej hattrick fired us to a 6-0 win against Ballymena before he and Christopher Morrison secured the 3-0 win away to Portadirt.

Linfield came to town and were HIT FOR SIX as the report goes – Pavel Macej continuing his path to becoming a Glentoran legend by bagging a brace. We then made short work of Carrick, Coleraine and Dungannon to close out December with four consecutive home matches and home wins!


The league is just one element of our season, as I’ve previously explained. The cup competitions have continued to come into play thick and fast.

October 2022

Institute at home in the NIFL cup was a routine victory before an away trip to QotS in the Tunnock’s Scottish Challenge Cup (helpfully still named the Irn-Bru Cup in FM20…) in which we secured an impressive win over their reserve side.

We may well have just stayed there as we faced Rangers (Newco) Reserves at the famous Auchenhowie just three days later. Rangers played several first team fringe players and absolutely blew us away! October’s cup fixtures ended with a delightful two-goal win over Crusaders in the County Antrim Quarter Final.

November 2022

November was all cup matches, starting with a first appearance in the Irish Champions Cup Final against Dundalk – who had won the cup for all three previous years since its inception.

A difficult loss away in Oriel Park was quickly forgotten as just TWO DAYS LATER a heavily rotated Glentoran put Dundalk to the sword and won 4-2 on aggregate! First medal of the season secured. This match was also notable for Antonio Candreva grabbing his first goal for the club!

A shrt trip to Cliftonville followed for the NIFL Cup and, once again, the Reds were simply no match for this Glens side.

November ended with four wins from four ties (counting the two legs of the Champions Cup as one) as Knockbreda and Coleraine were swept aside in consecutive Semi-Finals to see us through in the County Antrim Shield and NIFL Cup respectively. A first goal for Jack Lee against Knockbreda and a superb four goal haul for Macej against Coleraine.


Finally, onto the Europa League! I have to admit that I feel that the draw was somewhat kind to us. In a group of Celta Vigo, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb I still expect absolutely nothing but it definitely could have been worse.

Europa League Group Stage

And just look at those results!

It was a nice touch that our first ever Group Stage game was to be hosted at home, however, due to UEFA stadium requirements we actually had to relocate the game to Linfield’s Windsor Park. Having kept the deadlock in place for the first half, Celta Vigo were too strong after the break and scored a 2-0 win. In the return fixture we actually ended up with an early lead thanks to a Rory Lafferty header but were pegged back by an early second half equaliser. A point apiece for the sides.

It was on to Donetsk next and, having hit back on the hour mark to equalise, it looked for a brief moment that another shock might be on the cards… it wasn’t. Shakhtar scored three in a ten minute period following a controversial penalty decision.

A trip to Dinamo Zagreb followed and we somehow managed to take all three points! Another goalless first half before an own goal gifted us the lead. Dinamo struck back in the 78th minute but the famous Niklas Haugland grabbed the winner two minutes from time!

We’ve really made a great job of keeping these big, full time side at bay for long periods of the game. At home to Shakhtar we kept it scoreless until our own Cricky Gallagher fired in on 83 minutes. Sadly we couldn’t hold on and Shakhtar found an equaliser in the last minute of normal time to steal a point.

The last day of the group stages and we actually had a chance to progress! A win for us and a loss for Shakhtar Donetsk would see us finish 2nd in the group. Jake Collum and Josh Doherty gifted us a 2-1 victory with Dinamo Zagreb’s 91st minute consolation barely seeing us flinch… and Celta Vigo did their job against Shakhtar! YES!

Come February we will face off against Fiorentina in a one legged 1st Knockout Round match (due to the compacted European schedule caused by the 2022 World Cup).


Czech Mate!

It’s been such an incredible season so far as we just tick over into January 2023.

Sadly, it was not all joy though as Pavel Macej suffered a season ending injury in that league victory over Coleraine on Boxing Day! Macej’s damaged spine means it could be anywhere from May to September before we see the Czech star back in action! This is particularly sickening as Macej was really starting to become an integral part of the team having grabbed an incredible 17 goals and 10 assists in his 23 appearances.


I need to cheer myself up again after the above news… a perfect time to watch this one again.

The Tale of The Three-Legged Playoff

Last season’s title win meant it would be a berth in the Champions League Qualifying Rounds for us this season! The added challenges of an earlier season start (6th July), additional fixtures in an already packed schedule and the possibility of humiliation by a bigger side are very much offset by the insane income (by this league’s standards) we will expect to receive.

Alongside the Premiership and now the Champions League, we will continue to compete in the NIFL Cup, County Antrim Shield and the Irish Cup. In addition to these we will have ties in the Scottish Challenge Cup (or Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup if you prefer) and the All-Ireland Champions up (known by its sponsor’s name Unite The Union Champions Cup). An incredible SEVEN competitions, with possibly an EIGHTH if we drop of the Champions League and into the Europa League Qualifiers! Is that a record? Maybe…


Pre-Season Transfer Business

Before the season even began in early July, there was business to be done.

Charlie Oliver left on a free transfer to join Bradford City after his contract expired, this left a gaping hole in our defence with Charlie a key player for us over the last two seasons. Once there was noted interests from clubs back across in England, his head was turned and he refused to negotiate an extension to his contract here. He leaves with 90 appearances over 2 seasons and 7 goals from his centre back position.

Ethan Patterson’s loan from Shamrock Rovers remains in place up until November but we definitely needed another in as a replacement for Charlie Oliver. I had been tracking one player for a number of months when suddenly someone else popped up on my radar, I swooped instantly and made the move for Ciaran McKenna who had just been released by Scottish Premiership side Hamilton – a top acquisition that ticks a lot of boxes for me but most of all by being a tall bastard at 6’4″.

The next two deals were more in the way of continuity. Niklas Haugland extended his loan deal from Leeds United for another season after last year’s 28 goal title-winning haul. After spending a year and a half on loan with us, Aston Oxborough made his move permanent after being released by Barnsley. The final signing of this update actually came following the closure of the transfer window as we moved for Pavel Macej, a Czech U21 free agent who had been unattached for 9 months after being released by Dinamo Tbilisi despite being their Supporter’s Player of the Year for 3 seasons running…odd!

There was one more departure from the club, on deadline day, that I feel the need to mention. Markus Assarsson came to the club on a free from Bolton at the beginning of last season. Over the course of the year he made 43 appearances with 23 of them being from the bench. I could never really fit him into a midfield that was playing so well and felt it a waste to push him down to centre back. When Larne came in with an absurd offer of £76k I felt obliged to accept! Part of me is slightly disappointed not to take him on and see how he goes, given how well he seemed to fair in Dan Gear’s Bolton save.



Having had such a hectic start to the season, I feel the easiest way to break it down will be to look at results by competition rather than simply in chronological order.

We only had time to fit in three friendly fixtures over the summer. A creditable draw against League Two Bolton Wanderers was followed by the decimation of Institute before our usual jaunt to Wilgar Park as a rotated side claimed a 3-1 victory.

For us to beat Slovakian side Spartak Trnava may not have been the shock of the century, however, the manner and sheer dominance in our victory over two legs was a surprise to me.

Turning over Qarabag 3-0 at home in the next round was certainly an unexpected result, new boy Ciaran McKenna heading in twice from set pieces assisted by Conor Pepper before boy-wonder Jake Collum notched his second competitive goal of the season. I expected to be put to the sword away from home but we stood to qualify with Qarabag’s 86th minute consolation barely a blot on our copybook.

Malmo. A tie that will grate on me for time to come. We took the lead out in Sweden but had to come back from 2-1 and 3-2 down to bring ourselves level after the first leg, having the vital advantage of 3 away goals in our corner now. Malmo came to Belfast and we looked set to blow them out of the water as we stomped to a two goal lead. Malmo pulled one back before half time, Conor Pepper was sent off on 72 minutes and the Swedes went on strike twice more to take a 6-5 aggregate win. I shouldn’t be disheartened at this scoreline against a team filled with experience pros and senior internationals but… I am, or I was.

We dropped from the Champions League straight to the Europa League playoff stage. Two games from European Group Stages… Amazing!

Once again we claimed a 3-3 draw in the first leg, sadly the away goals were in Maccabi Haifa’s favour this time. Having climbed back from a goal down we let a 3-1 lead slip in the second half and I was spitting feathers.

The Wise Men of the East travelled to the Middle East with hope but not expectation. Our hopes appeared to be dashed on 38 minutes when Haifa took the lead but Josh Doherty found the equaliser on 72 minutes. With time running out, I throw everything at the Israeli side, essentially playing 3 in defence and 7 in attack (Oxborough stayed in nets…) and in the dying moments of the game Robbie McDaid made me jump from my seat as he struck an unbelievable winner!

And so, to the humdrum nature of domestic football!

We kicked the season off by going a goal down at home to Coleraine before blitzing back to win 5-2. We would then go on a four game streak of clean sheets: Jake Collum’s double sank Dungannon before he grabbed another in a 4-0 win over Cliftonville in our third consecutive home league fixture.

With the emergence of Jake Collum you could be forgiven for forgetting about Mackenzie Hunt but his superb finish started off a three-goal win over Ballymena before we left it late to strike twice in added time away to Newry. The final league fixture of this update was a 2-2 draw away to Crusaders, disappointing on two fronts as we drop our first league points of the season but also lose Jake Collum to injury for 7-8 weeks!

Our struggles continued into the next domestic game as we needed extra time to finish off Armagh (two divisions below) in the NIFL Cup before normal service resumed with a confident thumping of Donegal Celtic in the County Antrim!

As the league ticks over into September we sit atop the pile, undefeated in the league! Our fixture list for the next few months is an unholy mess but this is the consequence of success so I shan’t complain too much, take note Jurgen Klopp…


Three-Legged play offs?!

What was so special about our Europa League play-off?

Well there’s the fact that Robbie McDaid scored a 94th minute winner to see us through to the Group Stage for the first time EVER. Even moreso, the fact that Robbie McDaid is actually out of contract and only still with us by way of a rolling month-to-month contract!

Then there’s the fact the tie actually involved a third leg (please don’t!) Having played out an unbelievable 4-1 win in the first leg at home to Haifa I inexplicably forgot to save before quitting the game! This may be the first recorded instance of save and reloading on a comprehensive win…

I was then faced with a dilemma – do I simply replay as many times as possible to try and achieve the same result? A 4-1 win, which was totally unexpected, may have taken a crazy number of retries. Instead, I decide to take it on the chin and play out the tie as normal. What followed proved to be even better than what may have originally occurred. This save… it just keeps getting better!

Title Race Nerves

Five games of Irish Premiership football remain this season and the fate of the Gibson Cup lies in our own hands. March’s victory over Glenavon put us level on points with them as we turn into the post-split fixtures but the final fixture against them in April will be even more crucial still.

With the league fairytale being so prominent, it may be easy to forget that we have already secured two cup wins this season so far. Adding the league in and an Irish Cup Semi Final, could we do the unthinkable and secure a clean sweep?!


The title run in began with a trip to Linfield and gave us our third league Big Two victory of the season! It was another dominant performance from us and Dale Gorman’s 92nd minute goal served merely as a minor consolation for the hosts.

We made the Irish Cup semi final with Championship side Portadown the formality it should have been. Conor Bradley filled in up top as Niklas Haugland was rested for the vital league fixture against Glenavon.

Finally, we welcomed Glenavon back to the Oval and fought them off in a closely matched game which allowed us to extend our lead at the top to 6 points, thanks to their own results in recent weeks. We had one hand on the Trophy!

Ballymena were down to 10 men after an incredible 14 seconds (a world record?!) and the 3 points were a certainty from that point despite us allowing them back into the game after taking a 3rd minute lead. Glenavon’s win meant that the league title was still not secured.

What an odd way to seal a league title win – on a tuesday night trip to Newry. Three goals up and sailing at half time, we almost allowed Newry back into the game but stood strong to celebrate winning the Irish Premiership with a game to go!

You could be forgiven for thinking the final league game would be a non-event but a win would have ensured we set a club record for points won in a season. It wasn’t to be and I used the game as a chance to give some minutes to a few players I knew would be leaving us when the season ends.

GLENTORAN FC – DANSKE BANK PREMIERSHIP CHAMPIONS 2021/22

The only thing left to tie up was the 2022 Irish Cup final which pitted us against… GLENAVON! We fought them off in the NIFL Cup Final, we beat them in the race for the league title. They won their own regional final (Mid-Ulster Cup) as we won ours (County Antrim Shield). It seems a fitting way to close out the season.

Alas, it wasn’t to be! 17 year old Stephen Gawne was on top form as the Irish Cup proved one stretch too far for Glentoran this season. Being hit for three goals without reply represented our worst result of the season.


I feel daft for thinking it but the loss in the Irish Cup is really grinding on me. Although on a positive note, it leaves me with plenty to work towards next season along with Champions League football!

There were so many big performers this season that this stat screen makes for such pleasant reading.

Aston Oxborough made an incredible 56 appearances, which included two stretches of extra time and one penalty shootout, without missing a minute!

Conor Pepper’s 18 assists set a club record and contributed to him having the highest average rating in the squad – 7.53.

Niklas Haugland bagged 28 goals and 9 assists, his strike partner Robbie McDaid marked 21 goals and 14 assists.

New boy Jake Collum ended the season with 16 appearances, playing 1,054 minutes and scoring 7 goals with 1 assist. He will become a big feature for us in the next season.

All of the above put in serious shifts this season but my personal player of the year would be midfielder Mackenzie Hunt. The former Irish U19 international scored 15 goals and set up a further 17 from his role as Mezzala-Attack. His player trait of ‘runs with ball through centre’ served him well time and time again as he marauded through the middle of the pitch, striking fear into opposition defences!


The Mourne(view) Legacy

In my first season it was an other unremarkable draw with Glenavon at Mourneview Park in April that saved me from an almost certain sacking.

How fitting it is that two years on it would be two fixtures over Glenavon that would help me to secure my first league title of the save! Who doesn’t love the narrative!?