DESPITE the Bannsiders’ season ending a little over a week ago, colerainefc.com takes a look back on the 2020/21 campaign as Coleraine earned a miraculous victory in Slovenia and stepped up their preparations for the Danske Bank Premiership campaign…
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bannsiders only finished their 2019/20 campaign in July as they were beaten by Ballymena United in the semi-final of the Irish Cup on penalties.
However, attention quickly turned for the Europa League qualifiers as the Stripes were drawn against Sammarinese opponents, La Fiorita, with the tie only being played across one single leg.
Oran Kearney’s men warmed up for that fixture by beating H&W Welders in a pre-season friendly as goals from Ben Doherty, James McLaughlin and Stephen O’Donnell sealed a win against the East Belfast side.
The Stripes would lose the services of Chris Johns (Linfield), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Glenavon), Nedas Maciulaitis (Loughgall), Emmett McGuckin (Dergview), with Caiolan Brennan joining Limavady United on a six-month loan and Alexander Gawne also departing on a season long-loan to Carrick Rangers.
However, the squad was boosted by the arrivals of Gareth Deane on a short-term loan deal from Linfield, with Evan Tweed joining from Institute and Ronan Wilson arriving from Cliftonville. The Bannsiders would also turn Curtis Allen’s six month loan deal into a permanent switch as he signed a two-year deal.
Coleraine would have home advantage for the preliminary round tie against La Fiorita and despite going into the game as the favourites, they struggled to break the visitors down. With no fans permitted, the Stripes would have the majority of the possession but they would have to wait until the 89th minute for the breakthrough as a long ball over the top by Aaron Traynor was expertly controlled by James McLaughlin who fired into the bottom corner. That win was Coleraine’s first in European competition for 17 years.
That win set up a glamour tie away to Slovenian giants Maribor who had secured positive results against the likes of Celtic, Sevilla and other big clubs across the continent. After a goalless first-half, Coleraine dared to dream as McLaughlin once again pounced on the European stage to shock the hosts. However, the lead was short-lived as NK Maribor pulled level three minutes later as second-half substitute Rudi Pozeg held his nerve to finish Milec’s cross. Kearney’s men soaked up the pressure which meant the game was to be decided in extra time. Remarkably, the home side missed a penalty in the first half of extra time as substitute Amir Dervisivic smashed his effort off the crossbar from the spot before the Coleraine defenders mopped up the danger by clearing the ball to safety as the game would be decided by penalties. After each team scored their first four penalties each, Coleraine would have the chance to go through as Rudi Pozeg’s strike from 12 yards smashed the post. The match winning spot kick would arrive from the boot of Ben Doherty as Coleraine secured their first European victory away from home since 1970.
Fresh from beating Maribor, Kearney’s men would swap Slovenia for Limavady as Coleraine went over the mountain to face United. The Bannsiders squad was mostly a mixture of first-team players who didn’t start the fixture in NK Maribor – apart from Josh Carson – and several members of the Reserves. A goal from Curtis Allen had the visitors ahead at the break before Ian Parkhill, Allen again and Josh Carson netted, with Jack McGonigle bagging a consolation goal.
Coleraine would face Scottish side Motherwell in the second qualifying round of the Europa League at The Showgrounds. The Well – who were then managed by Ulsterman Stephen Robinson – made a blistering start and took the lead on 16 minutes as a cross inside the box found Callum Lang and after the striker was denied at close range by Deane, he was on hand to prod home the rebound. Motherwell would stretch their lead on 36 minutes as Lang’s lay-off found strike partner Tony Watt and his powerful strike went into the back of the net. However, Coleraine would reduce the deficit four minutes into the second-half as Ben Doherty went to ground inside the area under a challenge from Mark O’Hara. The midfielder then composed himself to confidently dispatch from 12 yards. However, there would be a grandstand finish in store as Coleraine were awarded a second penalty on 89 minutes. A long ball found its way to Eoin Bradley and he was fouled inside the box by Bevis Mugabi who was given a straight red card. Up-stepped Doherty who once again found the back of the net to send the tie into extra-time. Coleraine thought they had taken the lead on 108 minutes as the lively Glackin crossed the ball to the back post and Bradley’s strike cannoned off the crossbar, with the rebound being cleared off the line by O’Hara before McLaughlin could pounce. The tie would be settled by a penalty shoot-out and there would be heartache for the Bannsiders as Parkhill, Kane and McConaghie would all be denied by Carson, with O’Hara, Watt and O’Donnell converting for Motherwell.
There would be a return to Coleraine for defender Howard Beverland who penned a three-year deal after being released from Crusaders and he would play in a pre-season draw against Dergview, before also starting in a friendly defeat at home to Annagh United as the Mid-Ulster side won 3-2 against a Coleraine side that was a blend of experience and youth.
Coleraine’s final match in September would see Portstewart visit the Ballycastle Road in the quarter-final of the Eventsec North-West Senior Cup. The tie saw Coleraine go full strength and they would hit the front as Jamie Glackin’s free-kick was punched clear by Portstewart ‘keeper Andy Findlay into the path of Allen who had the simple task of scoring into an empty net for his first goal since returning to The Showgrounds. After Allen and McLaughlin both had efforts on goal, Portstewart almost grabbed an equaliser on 72 minutes as a free-kick delivery from Mark Edgar found Johnny Watt inside the area but the ex-Coleraine man failed to find the target. At the other end, Ronan Wilson went close to registering his first goal in Coleraine colours as his well driven effort was gathered by Findlay. However, the tie would be put to bed on 83 minutes and in some style as Glackin showed neat footwork inside the area to evade several Portstewart challenges and find the bottom corner as the Bannsiders face Dergview in the semi-final.