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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.