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.
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.