DECEMBER would prove to be a profitable month as Coleraine responded from a defeat to Dungannon Swifts to record maximum points against Warrenpoint Town and Cliftonville…
The Bannsiders started the month with a trip to Stangmore Park as Coleraine wanted to put an end to their three match losing streak. However, after 15 minutes, the hosts would make the breakthrough as Michael Carvill swivelled and turned at the edge of the box before finding the bottom corner. In a lacklustre first-half that was disrupted with a heavy wind, the best chance for Coleraine landed via an Eoin Bradley free-kick but the striker was unable to steer his effort on target. The Bannsiders made a better start to the second-half and threatened immediately after the restart as Jamie Glackin had an effort cleared off the line by an alert Callum Byers. From a corner kick, the ball would land at the feet of Aaron Jarvis and his strike produced a smart save from Sam Johnston. Those misses would be punished on 79 minutes as the hosts doubled their lead. A mis-placed pass was seized upon by Daniel Hughes and after his strike flashed off the crossbar, Shane McGinty delivered the loose ball to the back post for Carvill to then lay off into the path of Rhyss Campbell who made no mistake in smashing his shot home.
The Stripes would hope that home comforts would pay dividends as they welcomed Warrenpoint Town to the Ballycastle Road. After making a bright start to proceedings, Coleraine broke the deadlock with a well crafted and well deserved goal on the half hour mark. Glackin fed Evan Tweed – back in the starting line up – and his cutback was swept home by Doherty. Gareth McConaghie almost doubled the lead just before the break with a trademark long range free kick pile-driver which was well stopped by ‘keeper Gabriel Sava. Warrenpoint slowly but surely began to get a foothold in the game and they almost snatched an equaliser just after the hour when Danny Wallace thought he had scored with a header but the previously untroubled Gareth Deane produced a stunning save to push the ball around the post. There was another scare moments later as Dermot McVeigh smashed a shot wide. A red card was shown to ‘keeper Sava on 81 minutes for an off the ball incident involving Glackin – spotted by fourth official Gareth Stewart. And then Gareth Peers was sent off just three minutes later when he came back on the pitch without permission and was shown a second yellow card. However, he had already been substituted meaning Warrenpoint still had nine outfield players and substitute ‘keeper Andrew Coleman between the sticks. Yet remarkably Warrenpoint levelled sixty seconds from time when Stuart Hutchinson lashed home to stun The Showgrounds support. But there was another twist to come as substitute McLaughlin played through Nixon who kept his composure to fire home a crucial winner as Coleraine finally secured a victory.
Coleraine would look to make it back-to-back wins against Cliftonville in an evening kick-off at Solitude. Both teams somewhat cancelled each other out during a first half which had plenty of endeavour but few goalscoring opportunities. Gareth Deane was sharp off his line on 13 minutes to block Conor McDermott as he attempted to get on the end of a long ball and he repeated the feat two minutes later, this time as Joe Gormley tried to connect with Ronan Doherty’s pass. The second half started with a sensational save from Deane to keep his team on level terms.Ryan Curran looked certain to score when he met Gormley’s 48th minute cross from close range but the ‘keeper produced a superb stop. It was the sensational introduction of McLaughlin from the bench, however, which swung the game Coleraine’s way. The striker replaced Nixon after 55 minutes and with his first touch rose to power his header from Ian Parkhill’s cross past Richard Brush. Cliftonville threw men into attack in the closing stages and it took a tremendous goal-line clearance from skipper O’Donnell to deny Gormley who lobbed Deane. After soaking up the pressure, it was left to that man McLaughlin to make the points safe with seven minutes remaining as the striker dispossessed a hesitant Breen and finished clinically.
Due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, all sport in Northern Ireland between December 26 to January 1 was forced to be cancelled, meaning the Bannsiders’ clashes against Ballymena United and Portadown would have to be rescheduled. As such, Coleraine would next be in action on January 2 with a home clash against Carrick Rangers. Oran Kearney’s men were also drawn to face Crusaders in the opening round of the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup.
Ahead of the January transfer window, Coleraine boss Oran Kearney would make a signing as striker Matthew Shevlin joined the club on a two-and-a-half year deal. The 22-year-old started his career at Ballymena United before making the move to Linfield.