DESPITE the season ending a little over two weeks ago, colerainefc.com recaps the entire 2018-19 campaign starting with the Bannsiders’ pre-season fixtures and European commitments…
Fresh after their Irish Cup success, Oran Kearney swooped in the transfer market to land the services of midfielder Stephen Lowry from Linfield and defender Graham Crown from Limavady United. However, there would be departures from that memorable season as Stephen Dooley joined Rochdale, Martin Smith made the move to Swindon Town, Matthew Kirk joined Dergview on loan, with David Ogilby also moving to junior football with Lisnahally.
The Stripes would prepare for the Europa League fixtures against Spartak Subotica by playing two pre-season friendlies at The Showgrounds. The first was against familiar opposition as Danske Bank Premiership rivals Glenavon made the trip to the North Coast. As the game looked destined to end in a stalemate, Gary Hamilton’s side secured the win as Stephen Donnelly netted late to break the deadlock. The following week, Derry City were the visitors to the Ballycastle Road and early goals from Eoin Bradley and Aaron Burns proved vital as Kearney’s men cruised to a 2-0 win.
For a second successive year, Coleraine were on their travels in the Europa League as they made the trip to Serbia for the first-leg. The Bannsiders were aiming to improve from their 7-0 defeat to FK Haugesund a year previous and things looked good when Darren McCauley netted Coleraine’s first European goal since 2003. Defender Dejan Kerkez would have two late chances for the hosts but when it looked like they had ran out of time, they were awarded a penalty late into added time as Ian Parkhill was adjudged to have fouled inside the box. Savkovic made no mistake by sending Johns the wrong way – a cruel blow for Coleraine who looked like they had done enough to register a famous victory.
With the scores level and Coleraine boasting a precious away goal, confidence was high that the Bannsiders might secure a passage through to the next round against Sparta Prague – however Subotica ‘keeper Nikola Peric had different ideas. Time and time again, the stopper would prevent the hosts as he was quick to save from Ian Parkhill, Darren McCauley and Aaron Burns. However Oran Kearney’s men would suffer a blow on 33 minutes as a free-kick from Nemanja Glavic met the unmarked Nemanja Calasan at the back post. The defender’s flick on was headed home by Mile Savkovic who couldn’t miss from close range.
Coleraine – who knew they needed a goal to stay alive in the Europa League – thought they had equalised at the start of the second-half as Bradley held the ball up for Burns but the attacker’s strike was saved by Peric. Moments later, Peric was the thorn of the Bannsiders attack as Traynor’s cross met Parkhill at the back post and his header was palmed away by the Spartak stopper.Spartak were sitting deeper and deeper but Coleraine fans would feel more frustration on 70 minutes as Harkin’s corner kick was flicked on by McGonigle and defender Stephen O’Donnell couldn’t convert from close range. There was further frustration for the home support on 83 minutes as Adam Mullan’s wayward shot picked out McGonigle, but Peric dived to keep out his instinctive effort.
On 87 minutes, a clever free-kick by Brad Lyons released the run of Stephen Lowry but the summer arrival at The Showgrounds was denied by the body of Peric. As Coleraine pushed for a vital equaliser they were undone on the counter attack as the speedy Duricin rushed by Gareth McConaghie and squared for Bojan Cecaric who converted from close range to seal a 2-0 success. A harsh result for the Bannsiders who were arguably the better side over the two legs.
The then-Irish Cup holders would complete their pre-season schedule with a 3-0 away win at Limavady United, which was memorable as James McLaughlin made his return from an ACL injury to get on the scoresheet. A largely youthful Coleraine side drew 2-2 with Portstewart in the annual Wes Gregg Memorial Match, but the final fixture proved to be goal blitz as strikes from Alexander Gawne (2), Ciaron Harkin, Stephen Lowry, an own goal, Josh Carson, Eoin Bradley and Ian Parkhill dismantled Dergview at The Showgrounds.