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.


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!?

Take Back The City

As the season ticked over from 2021 into 2022 , we sat atop the pile by 2 points from a strong Glenavon side who are chasing their third consecutive league title. Or a “Three-peat” if you’re one of those insufferable Stateside sports fans…

While the Title Race is the overwhelming narrative this season, there is a side story as my Glentoran have sought to claim back dominance in the capital against the other three top flight Belfast sides of Linfield, Crusaders and Cliftonville. Something that is long overdue!

A player destined to fill Collum inches

Historically, January is not a very active transfer window for me but any transfer business I have done in this month has been very productive. In 2020 it was Ethan Galbraith, in 2021 it was Aston Oxborough.

2022’s winter signing is Jake Collum – left sided midfielder on a free transfer from Plymouth Argyle. In truth, this is a deal that has been in the making for some time now – the deal was agreed partway through last season but could not be completed until Collum turned 18 and was no longer tied to the club by his youth contract.

The timing could not have been any more perfect with the loss of Navid Nasseri last month. Collum is a player that is honestly miles above our level and will, no doubt, move on again before long.

January started off in the worst possible fashion as we suffered our third domestic loss of the season to newly promoted Newry – midfielder Jimmy Walker scoring a curious hattrick of two Newry goals and an own goal in our favour. Queens pushed us hard in the Irish Cup but it was a first Glentoran goal for new boy Jake Collum to send us through.

After giving up a two goal half time lead against Larne, Paul O’Neill smashed in an emphatic winner in the 95th minute of play to provide our first league points of 2022. A trip to Coleraine followed and an astounding five-goal victory gave us confidence going into our second cup final of the season!

There are fewer sweeter sights than a win over Linfield – one of those is a win over Linfield to seal a winner’s medal, even if it is only the County Antrim Shield. The good times kept coming as we then travelled to Solitude to spank five goals past an underperforming Cliftonville.

Linfield came to the Oval and stole a point before January was closed out with 3 points taken from Dungannon thanks to a Markus Assarsson header.

A trip to Newry for the Irish Cup was another successful adventure before we managed to draw a blank against Carrick in the league.

Glenavon in the NIFL Cup Final is a great precursor to the impending title fight and it was ourselves who scored the victory in this one as Niklas Haugland notched up his 25th and 26th goals of the season!

Mackenzie Hunt continued his own impressive goalscoring season as his 14th goal of the season from centre midfield help drive us to victory against Crusaders. Two goals from ex-Liverpool trainne Conor Bradley and one from Markus Assarsson sealed the points away to Warrenpoint.

Just two games in March but two vital matches in the course of how this season closes out. Linfield took us to penalties in the Irish Cup Quarter Final and it was Connor Pepper’s penalty that secured our progression as the shoothout finished 5-4 in our favour.

We travelled to Mourneview in what cliché-philes would note as a ‘real six-pointer’ with the Lurgan side sitting 3 points ahead of us at the summit of the league table as the game kicked off. It was a tight affair settled only by a superbly struck freekick from Josh Doherty.

As we head into the league split, the league is set up so perfectly for an exciting finish. Level on points with Glenavon and not too much of a swing in the goal difference, it now comes down to the final five fixtures! That and another cup Semi Final to look forward to.

Capital Punishment

I mentioned at the beginning that one of the themes running through this save was the aim to see Glentoran as the dominant Belfast team once again. I think it’s safe to say that, three seasons in, we are some way forward to achieving that!

In our nine Belfast fixtures prior to the league split we picked up an incredible 25 points as evidenced in this mini-Belfast table below.

We Are Climbing!

Season three started with one defeat in our opening seven games, the same amount of defeats that we would incur over the next four months! A fit squad hitting form, this season is shaping up nicely indeed!

The green circles are out in abundance throughout the months of September and October. It shouldn’t be overlooked as to how significant some of these victories actually were against difficult opposition.

The victory over Carrick was closely fought until added time in the second half when we made it look comfortable before throwing away a two goal lead against Dungannon to draw at home. Reigning league champions Glenavon came to town but we ran out deserved victors in a rampant 4 goal win then travelled to Seaview to stick two past Crusaders without reply. For the second year running we played and beat Knockbreda in the opening round of the County Antrim Shield with a little rotation allowed for in the squad.

Niklas Haugland’s second hattrick of the season inspired a 4-1 win over Warenpoint before Larne made us fight hard for progression in the County Antrim – twice levelling the scores before we sealed our third County Antrim Shield semi final appearance in three seasons! Four different goalscorers in a pleasing win on our travels to Ballymena and then a Robbie McDaid brace sank Cliftonville at The Oval. We then had consecutive NIFL Cup games which took us through to our second semi final of the season. We were simply unable to close out a 100% winning month when Newry City fought hard for a point in our fourth straight home fixture of October.

Larne struck twice in three minutes to overturn our half time advantage and mark our second loss of the season (in all domestic competitions) but the squad bounced back superbly by sweeping Coleraine aside with ease, Josh Doherty recording his first goal for the club. Then came three games against Carrick within 14 days – victories in both cup games leading us into two Cup finals but we had to pull ourselves back from a losing position in the league to steal a point.

The 2021 calendar year was drawn to a close with 14 points in December from a possible 18. Decisive victories over Dungannon, Crusaders, Ballymena and (especially pleasing) Linfield along with draws against Glenavon and Warrenpoint. No Boxing Day fixture this season as it fell on a Sunday!

There we have it! As we turn into 2022, Glentoran are back where they belong: at the top of the league! We’re 19 points ahead of newly promoted Newry who sit in a very respectable 3rd place. I feel that with 15 games to go, we’re set for an exciting battle with Glenavon for the top spot as we seek to end their run of two consecutive league titles. Both of us have only lost twice in the league this season so there will be very little margin for error.

Goodbye Navid Nasseri!

After two and a half years at the club, Navid Nasseri has made his departure becoming the third Mick McDermott signing to leave for a Saudi Arabian club! With his contract due for expiration at the end of the season, Damac FC made their interest known and Nasseri made his intentions clear that a big money move was on his mind.

Damac swooped in just before Christmas and a fee of £30k initially (potentially rising to £35k) was agreed for an immediate move. Fittingly, Navid signed off his Glentoran stint with a goal and an assist in his last appearance against Crusaders on 14th December as we recorded that impressive 5-1 win!

29 goals and 39 assists in his 119 appearances in all competitions is an incredible return for a player who played the vast majority of his time at left midfield. Nasseri made his Iran senior debut in September of this season and has made a total of 4 appearances for them, I was excited to potentially cheer him on as a Glentoran player at the 2022 World Cup but sadly that is not to be! I’ll still keep an eye on his progress and hope that at some point in the future I will be able to tempt him back to East Belfast again!

European Adventures

We’ve reached an exciting point in this save as I’ve managed to qualify for European competition, courtesy of my Irish Cup win over Portadown. There is added intrigue as we’ll be competing in the brand new third tier of europe – the UEFA European Conference League (branded as EURO Cup II in FM).

Why is Europe so much of a big deal for Irish clubs? Because the income for simply competing dwarfs the prize money on offer for any other competition we enter. This money has the potential to totally change the dynamic of the league with the signings it can help to fund.

Wheeling and Dealing

We acted quickly in the summer window with European competition coming early into pre-season. Having released 3 first team players (Gary Deegan, Tom Byrne and Calum Birney) and allowing two others to move elsewhere on the conclusion of their contracts (Antonio Djuric and Marijan Antolovic both to Inter Zapresic), there was ample wiggle room in our wage budget to make moves.

Aston Oxborough (GK) and Ethan Patterson (DC) extended their loan deals with the clubs for a further season and six months respectively.

We filled our gap at left back by signing up Josh Doherty on a free from Crawley Town, the ex-NI U21 international is versatile enough to also be able to fill in at centre back. Speaking of versatile, we also brought in Swede Markus Assarsson on a free from Bolton. Markus is capable of playing in defense, defensive midfield and centre midfield.

Rotation of the highly worked midfield spots could prove key to any further success this season so we have strengthened a lot in that area. Tom Adeyemi was a free signing from Crewe Alexandra. Cammy Palmer is a free signing from Rangers FC, he’s a player I’ve been tracking for around 18 months in-game so it feels good to finally bring him in!

The final two new signings have a more attacking mindset. Conor Bradley is a positive result of my scouting of NI youth teams, a young winger with plenty of potential signed on a free transfer from Liverpool. Niklas Haugland comes in on a season loan from Leeds, we’ll be hoping that he can go some way to replacing David Parkhouse’s 29 goals from last season.

As Motley Crue once sang: “goals, goals, goals”

I was delighted with early wins over Bala Town and St Johnstone which set us up nicely for a comprehensive victory over two legs against Balzan Youths in the UEFA European Conference League – damning proof that you’ll never win anything with kids.

A routine victory against East Kilbride was our preparation for a dream fmadventure derby against Fm19’s FC Groningen! We let an early 2 goal lead slip in the first leg meaning the second leg was always an uphill battle – one which we performed well in nonetheless. Our annual Dundela friendly closed out pre-season for another year.

Overall I’m very pleased with our first outing in Europe and the fact it netted us a cool £142k in prize money!

Our opening fixture of the 2021/22 NIFL Premiership season was such an odd one. Ballymena came out of the blocks firing and were 2 up after 23 minutes, we didn’t show any signs of a fightback and I feared that pre-season had been a false dawn.

The team rallied, though, and stormed through the next five league fixtures picking up a maximum 15 points with 17 goals scored and only 2 conceded! Newly promoted Newry was an expected result but the same could not be said for Cliftonville as we blew them out of the water by finishing the game off by half time! Coleraine are another top half team and I was delighted to see us push them aside with relative ease before welcoming cash cows Larne to the Oval for another convincing win! A solid victory over Championship Knockbreda allows us to progress in the NIFL Cup with youngster Christopher Morrison bagging a brace before heading out to Newry on loan for the rest of the season.

The most pleasing result of the season so far is without a doubt our 3-0 humbling of cross city rivals Linfield! The Blues were incredibly lucky to escape relegation last season and it showed as they barely put up any opposition to loanee Haugland as he took his tally to 6 league goals in 6 league games.

Despite our impressive early form, it is Glenavon (Champions for two years running) that are setting the pace early on with 16 points from six games played. Larne are struggling already despite their extensive cash reserves.

Follow The Purple Brick Road

I’m at a total loss as to how I can explain the reason for Larne’s woes! Having had a takeover by Purple Bricks owner Kenny Bruce 2017, the County Antrim side have had a massive financial boost – much like ourselves.

Larne’s wage bill is simply incredible – 3 times that of the second highest spenders and a massive £1.7m more per year than Carrick! They’re also the highest net spenders in transfers with £50k splashed out this season.

Larne have 10 players on £2k/week or more – for comparison, my highest paid player is on £550/week. The Invermen are now on their third manager in three seasons of this save with Tiernan Lynch sacked in December 2019, Colin Clarke sacked in February 2021 (a 43% win percentage) and ex-Linfield manager David Healy currently at the helm with 4 wins in his 13 games played so far.

The Larne-Glentoran rivalry has been gleefully coined as El Cashico but it’s clear so far in this save that the smart money is truly on the side from East Belfast!

If we don’t win the league, the Irish Cup will do

As I left it last we only had the five post-split league games to tackle and an Irish Cup Semi-Final (and potentially final) in my second season run-in. We’d face top of the Premiership Glenavon in the Irish Cup but my hopes were higher for securing European football from a 3rd place league finish as we trailed that position by a mere 3 points!

9 points from a possible 15

Our post split fixtures couldn’t have started any better as we managed to grind out a victory over 2nd place Crusaders, Parkhouse continuing his fine goalscoring form for the season.

Sadly, the good vibes weren’t to last long as we were effectively out of the next game by half time as Ballymena took a 3 goal lead. I switched it up and went all out attack which gave some joy through Curtis Allen’s goal just after the hour but Ballymena hit back again to regain their 3 goal advantage. Djuric and Reading’s goals made for an interesting final 8 minutes but in truth I never felt like we could get back on level terms. Sadly, this result gave Ballymena a 6 point advantage over us in the race for 3rd place and, as such, I considered our race for European qualification via the league to be over.

Having just been crown League Champions, Glenavon were maybe still in party mode when the semi-final came and so we took full advantage to book our place in our second cup final of the season!

Glenavon bounced back well to comfortably overcome us on our own turf. Again, we were at a 3 goal deficit before we started to show any fight. Nasseri’s penalty was little consolation at full time.

With a cup final to look forward to, it was imperative that we finished the league strongly to ensure morale was at its highest. Successive 2-0 wins over Cliftonville and Coleraine will certainly do that for you! A brace for Djuric against the Reds before 2-Pen-Parkhouse took over at Coleraine Showgrounds.

And so at the end of the season we end up in 4th place with 61 points – 1 place and 1 point of an improvement from last year. Perhaps the biggest shock of the season is down in the lower half of the table where Linfield were spared relegation on the last day of the season as Portadown beat Ards 2-1! Cliftonville would later take a European spot courtesy of the European Play Off.

2021 Irish FA Challenge Cup Final

The Irish Cup Final. The Showpiece of the local footballing calendar. We would take on Portadown at The National Football Stadium @ Windsor Park. Both teams had very different journey’s to the Cup finale.

Glentoran came up against two of the Premiership’s Top 6 in our route to the final
Portadown faced three NIFL Championship teams with their hardest fixture against Dungannon Swifts (7th in NIFL Prem)

We lined up in our usual 4-4-2 but suspension ruled out our central midfield pairing of Mackenzie Hunt and Cricky Gallagher. This meant Gary Deegan and Tom Byrne both making their first starts since Boxing Day, with Byrne having to play out of position rather than his natural left wing role.

After a scoreless first half, we began to turn the screw and Antonio Djuric’s 11th goal of the season opened the floodgates. Djuric added a second on 65 minutes before Charlie Oliver’s headed goals came either side of a Navid Nasseri curler from outside the box.

A fantastic result in the end against an already-relegated Portadown whose just over 3,000 fans face a trip home empty handed and knowing they’ll be playing second tier football next season. Aw, diddums!

Two Cups won, semi-finalists in the other and a 4th place finish in the league – the club is progressing steadily, even if it is not spectacularly.

Here is a snapshot of how the squad performed over the season.

Aston Oxborough kept as many clean sheets (9) in 17 games as Marijan Antolovic managed in 33 before him! Charlie Oliver was the leader in Headers Won and Interceptions per 90 min but Paddy McClean averaged the most tackles per game.

Five players were sent off during the season with four of them gathering yellow cards into the double digits.

Patrick Reading was ever present with 49 starts this season and a total of 4,436 minutes played. Youth Graduates Joe O’Neill and Christopher Morrison continued to integrate into the first team squad despite only being 18 and 17 years old respectively at the season’s end.

Conor Pepper registered 13 assists while Navid Nasseri grabbed 11 of his own. David Parkhouse ran away as top goalscorer with 29 goals in his 49 games, Nasseri was the next best on 14 with Djuric just behind on 12.

Next season will be a big one for us. With Europe on the cards, the bonus is some bumper prize money but the downside is that our competitive season will start early in July.

The Board’s expectations remain to finish in the top half, we should expect to progress further and hope for a top 3 finish in the league. I’d also expect us to bag at least one cup again.

There are a few outgoing players due to contracts expiring (which I’ll mention in next season’s update) which means we will need to act quickly to have our squad filled and readied for the early rounds of Europe – UEFA’s brand new third level competition.

The sun rises in the f**king East!

You’ve Got To Pick a Pocket Or Two

Spirits high after securing a place in our first cup final, we roll into a busy Winter schedule which sees 12 league games in the months of December and January alone.

Antonio Djuric does a lot of the donkey work up top without grabbing many of the headlines but he decided to steal the show against Glenavon with a fantastic hattrick. Ards away was a shocker, another one of those ones where we just created absolutely nothing but we bounced back against Mid-Ulster’s second team, Portadown. Wins over Warrenpoint and Dungannon sandwiched a disappointing loss to bitter rivals Linfield – we deserved a lot more from that one. We fought back from 2 down only to give up the points to Cliftonville in the final match of 2020 – all five goals coming in the first half.

January Transfer Business

January’s wheeling and dealing was brief but effective.

We offloaded squad player John Herron to Coleraine on a free, sparing us his £300/week wages until his summer contract renewal. Another squad player in Cameron Stewart moved to Larne for an unexpected fee of £25.5k and I don’t even have the IGE enabled…

The one incoming player was a young goalkeeper I had on trial for four weeks in the summer but couldn’t convince him to lower his wage demands. In the end I’ve managed to secure his services on loan for the remainder of the season for a measly 10% of his £1.9k weekly wage.

It’s back to the grindstone for us as we enter 2021. Curtis Allen’s return from injury continued as he bagged a brace against Ballymena before we travelled along the Holywood Road to Tillysburn Park to face the Welders in the Irish Cup – a 2-0 win (John Herron’s last game) ensuring we go one better than last season when we crashed out early. Two travels north of the Big Smoke saw us collect absolutely nothing before we battled back in a big way against Coleraine. Last season’s champions Glenavon could not be broken in a scoreless draw.

Not the first cup I’ve been given as a Valentine’s gift

And then came February! Probably my greatest month in FM…ever?! We started out by spanking that lot from the National Stadium 3-0 before advancing past Larne in the 6th Round of the Irish Cup. Our last of three consecutive home games was a convincing 4-1 win over newly promoted Ards to give us the confidence required for a glorious first cup win of the save! NIFL Cup Champions – it’s not a Mickey Mouse Cup… Anyway, with Warrenpoint put to the sword on our furthest away trip of the season, a loss to Portadown was the only down point of a great month.

Beating Coleraine shouldn’t be overshadowed by the previous month – it sets us up for our third cup semi final of the season, a fantastic achievement and reminiscent of the good old days! Dungannon beat us. Meh.

Now the league split is upon us. The league title is certainly gone from us but Europe is very much in reach (especially given a further European place goes to the Irish Cup Champions). The unfortunate thing is that our position of 5th hands us 3 away fixtures and just 2 at home with a trip to Windsor Park for the Irish Cup semi final right in the midst of it all.

Charlie Oliver – the rock at the back

Earlier in the season I tweeted about Charlie Oliver, a new signing who was beginning to find his feet at Glentoran. Little did I know how important he would be as we come into the final run of this second season!

Signed on a free transfer following the expiration of his contract at Brackley Town, Charlie slotted himself into our back two with ease. Here are some interesting stats from his first nine months at The Oval:

41 appearances – 3,666 minutes played. 3 goals and 2 assists with 2 player of the match awards. 7.56 headers won and 1.50 tackles per 90 minutes with a fantastic 4.62 interceptions per match – picking pockets on the regular (Oliver!, pick a pocket or two… tenuous blog title link completed). Charlie is one of our best performers evidenced by his 7.10 average rating.

With another season left on his contract, Charlie Oliver is starting to attract attention from back across the water: League One Doncaster and Rochdale keen on the promising defender. We’ve a massive choice to make with this one in the summer!

Fortune Favours The Glens

Our first season ended with us meeting the board’s expectation of a top half finish, in the end a bit of consistency might actually have secured us European football. This season, the board are simply asking again for another top half finish but they’ll no doubt expect to see some progression on our 5th place finish from last year.

Wheeling and Dealing

Trying to strengthen a squad at Irish League level is always a tricky prospect. Not least when you lose two of your most influential players from your squad and your hand is forced into replacing them!

As mentioned in my end of season one post, Hrvoje Plum has left on a free to join Al-Aldalah, this leaves a massive gap in midfield to be filled. To compound our misery we’ve also lost Dutch winger Elvio van Overbeek in a £140k deal which could not be turned down as the assisting wizard moves on to another Saudi side Al-Ra’ed.

We made two signings for central midfield to give us better options. In comes Gary Deegan, an experienced Dubliner who has been over the water in England and Scotland since leaving Bohemian in 2009. We’ve also brought in former Ireland U19 midfielder Mackenzie Hunt following his release from Everton.

Our defence has been strengthened across the board. Ethan Patterson first came in on loan from Shamrock Rovers in January as a back up option and will stay on for the remainder of this season. Charlie Oliver was signed on a pre-contract agreement and is first team ready. Our European signings continue with Norwegian fullback Benjamin Gleditsch joining on a free transfer after his release from English Non-League Poole Town. Scottish fullback Patrick Reading comes in on a season long loan from Middlesbrough.

Our final big signing of the summer is David Parkhouse, a Northern Ireland U21 international, on loan from Sheffield United. Parkhouse’s physical attributes and work rate should see him compete very well in the league this season. Two minor signings in the shape of goalkeeper Tiernan Parker and winger Chris Conn-Clarke will slot into our Reserve team for the time being with a view to gradually making the transition to senior football.

Travel Cost: nominal

This is probably the shortest pre-season schedule I’ve ever experienced with just four fixtures played. An overseas trip to glamorous West Lothian saw goals from our new signings before a battling performance at home to Oldham yielded only a 1 goal loss. There was a short drive up Pims Avenue to Wilgar Park for our annual Dundela friendly before our final game of pre-season at home to East Belfast. 4 games, 12 goals, no clean sheets.

The lack of intensive preparation most definitely affected our start to the season as we picked up just two points from our opening four games. We failed to create anything of note against Cliftonville before giving up a lead on three occasions at home to Ballymena in a disastrous draw. Conor Pepper rescued an undeserved point at Inver Park before Coleraine blew us away at home.

Things needed to change and, after some extensive forum searching and head scratching, I switched things up tactically again with an emphasis on more urgent pressing.

The tactical changes paid dividends as we went on a run of six wins in our next nine league games. Alongside that we also managed to reach the semi final of the County Antrim Shield (for the second year running) and the semi final of the NIFL Cup! David Parkhouse finally began to find form as he hit 10 goals in these two and a half months.

And then November hit us like the 14.30 train from Bangor to Great Victoria Street. A familiar foe reared its head against Larne – the lost lead – as we succumbed to a last minute defeat. “These things even themselves out” as we bit back against Coleraine with a late winner of our own. Then we took Cliftonville to penalties (again) in the County Antrim Shield Semi Final – and for the second season running Cliftonville beat us on penalties in the semi final of the Country Antrim Shield. Dire. Crusaders compounded our miseries to give us our second consecutive defeat to a North Belfast team.

BUT THEN! We kicked off December with our second Semi of the season so far. Dungannon came to East Belfast and we sent them packing with a David Parkhouse hattrick and a peach of a finish (although somewhat controversial) from young winger Chris Conn-Clarke.

Did this actually cross the line?!

Our disappointing start to the season has certainly given us work to do in reclaiming ground in the league. Along with this we’ve had to deal with serious injuries for last season’s top scorer Curtis Allen (torn thigh muscle, 3 months) and new signing Benjamin Gleditsch (broken foot, 4 months). Not to mention the dreaded one on one scenario in the current ME build…

Having now managed to reach a final of a cup competition, glory could soon be on the horizon for me in this save. However, there are minor victories to be had in many forms. One such minor victory is that I have outlasted not one but two Linfield managers in my short tenure thus far. Fortune Favours The Glens.

Linfield Legend currently holds the reins on a caretaker basis, eagerly awaiting the next failure…

The Mourne(view) Ultimatum

To quote every old woman from East Belfast ever “it’s never long running in!” Of course, they’re usually talking about the run up to Christmas as opposed to the back end of the Irish League season but the idiom fits.

We needed to improve upon a poor run in December despite the solitary win not seeming to do our league position any harm as we continued to cling on to 3rd place. Alas, it wouldn’t be Glentoran without some sort of managerial crisis, would it?

Monday night matches under the lights on Sky Sports TV, you couldn’t beat it with a big stick!

January got off to a flyer in the league with consecutive wins over Dungannon and Crusaders sandwiching a dire loss on penalties to Glenavon in the Irish Cup – making it three penalty exits from the three cup competitions.

A loss away to Coleraine was bad but following that up with a home defeat against Glenavon (our third loss to Glenavon out of four games played against them so far) had the board on my back. Alas, I met with the board and they issued me with…

The straight-to-DVD alternative

Yes! Five games to save my job. I was tasked with finding 9 points in the next five fixtures: Linfield away, Institute at home, Cliftonville away then Cliftonville again at home before the final assessment away to Glenavon at, punningly brilliantly named, Mourneview Park.

9 points you want? 9 points you’ve got…

Two penalties to twice drag us back on level terms against Linfield at the National Stadium had our points tally off and running. Second-from-bottom Institute at home should have been a foregone conclusion but the narrative wouldn’t allow it to be – a scoreless draw only doubled our points tally and put the pressure on.

Cliftonville away was more comfortable than the result shows – we were 3-1 to the good before a 92nd minute goal for the Reds reduced the deficit. If Cliftonville away was comfortable then Cliftonville at home was ‘resting in the armchair, mug of tea in hand, slippers on reading the results’ comfortable! An emphatic 4-0 win had me (quite literally) jumping for joy at my laptop. The current points tally at 8, only a draw needed away to newly crowned champions Glenavon was required.

Glenavon were not yet ready to take their foot off the pedal and, yet again this season, we had to come from behind TWICE to rescue a draw. Hrvoje Plum’s 90th minute winner seeing us scrape the 9 point minimum requirement. The Mourneview Ultimatum met!

Sweet as a plum!
Were we playing defenderless?

We clawed back from two goals down at home to Linfield only to throw it away in the final minute giving ground to Linfield in the race for European football. Coleraine blitzed us aside in the next game with Allen’s 26th and 27th league goals of the season scant consolation as this condemned us to a 5th place finish in the league.

I decided to switch things up against Ballymena and went from our 4-2-3-1 to a straight 4-4-2, the change appeared to do a world of good as we were 3-0 up before half time. If the fixture hadn’t been a dead rubber I may have attempted to shut the game down and play out a clean sheet but I allowed us to keep attacking which left the door open for their two goals in response.

A top half finish as requested!

We finish the season in 5th place, it’s what the board expected pre-season. Despite meeting expectations I am a little disappointed as, for a long time, it appeared that we may just sneak into one of the European spots! Regardless, we’ve left ourselves on a good platform for next season’s attack.

End of Season review

Above is a quick snapshot of a few select stats across the first team squad. Marijan Anatolovic stands out after playing every single minute of football this season!

Curtis Allen led the way in goals with a total of 51 between them, while Tom Byrne and Navid Nasseri amassed a combined total of 25 assists.

Hrvoje Plum – Glentoran FC player 2019/20

Sadly Hrvoje Plum’s stay at The Oval was a little more brief than I’d have liked. I alluded to our contract quarrels on Twitter recently:

As it happens, as soon as January came Hrvoje agreed a pre-contract move to Saudi Arabia side Al-Adalah.

The 25 year old made 34 appearances this season scoring 6 goals and laying on 8 assists. His average rating clocked in at 7.12 despite amassing 9 bookings and 3 red cards.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Plum’s future in the game with a view to trying to attract him back again at some point. For now, I leave you with another Peach From Plum™ to join the collection!