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.
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!