Season Review


2020-21 Season Review: May

COLERAINE would bring an end to the 2020-21 campaign as the post-split fixtures got underway…

Oran Kearney’s men started May with a home clash against Cliftonville – a side who previously ended the Bannsiders’ seventeen match unbeaten run. The hosts got off to a perfect start after early Cliftonville pressure as referee Raymond Crangle awarded a controversial 11th minute penalty when he adjudged goalkeeper Aaron McCarey to have fouled Matthew Shevlin. It appeared that it was momentum more than malice that took the ‘keeper into Shevlin, but Ben Doherty wasn’t complaining as he coolly smashed home from the spot. Only the woodwork prevented Coleraine doubling their advantage in spectacular style as James McLaughlin took one touch before unleashing a 35 yard drive which crashed off the crossbar. The game took a dramatic turn on the hour mark after the visitors had dominated the opening exchanges of the second half. Goalkeeper McCarey was sent off as he again brought down Shevlin who reacted first after Kris Lowe was short with his touch back. Coleraine took full advantage to stretch their lead as Doherty made no mistake from the spot for a second time.

In the battle for second spot Glentoran and Coleraine would once again lock horns and it would be no surprise to see the two sides draw for the third time in a matter of weeks. The visitors almost made a dream start but the woodwork denied them an early opener. Stevie O’Donnell met Ben Doherty’s fifth minute corner well but his looping header hit the crossbar. The second half was a much more open contest and the Bannsiders almost drew first blood within six minutes. Gael Bigirimana was dispossessed by Bradley who found Doherty but his shot hit the side netting. The introduction of Dale Gorman provided the home side with a spark… and the breakthrough. With his first touch, his 78th minute free kick found Ruaidhri Donnelly whose header beat Gallagher. Two minutes later, it took a fine stop from Gallagher to push away the midfielder’s effort from Jay Donnelly’s lay off. Then, with only three minutes remaining, Gorman hit a free kick his father Tony – a former Showgrounds favourite – would have been proud off and fortunately for Coleraine, the ball smashed against the crossbar. And it was to prove a crucial let off as the Stripes grabbed a dramatic equaliser. Substitute Stewart Nixon’s long throw-in eventually fell to Doherty whose ball into the box wasn’t cleared and Stephen Lowry fired past Rory Brown with the aid of a deflection off Patrick McClean – a result which saw Coleraine remain a point clear of the Glens in second.

With Coleraine not in Irish Cup action, they got a rare ten day break before facing Crusaders in a lunch time kick-off at Seaview. The first chance arrived on 11 minutes as the ball presented itself to Matthew Shevlin inside the box but his effort was gathered by Johnny Tuffey. Less than sixty seconds later, the visitors had the ball in the net but Eoin Bradley was flagged for offside. The Stripes went agonisingly close to edging ahead as Lyndon Kane burst into the box, and just when it looked like his strike was destined to find the back of the net, it sailed inches wide of the far post. However, the woodwork would come to Coleraine’s rescue on 42 minutes as Cushley’s sweet strike cannoned back off the crossbar. Coleraine – who lost by a single goal on their last visit to Seaview – spurned two glorious chances before the break as Stephen Lowry lashed over inside the box, before Ben Doherty’s cross was poked wide at close range by Shevlin. Crusaders made a bright start after the interval and should have been ahead on 48 minutes as the ball found its way into the path of Michael Ruddy but the full-back’s half volley failed to find the target. Moments later, a goal mouth scramble was somehow cleared as Cushley looked certain to pounce. However, the breakthrough arrived on 64 minutes as Curtis Allen’s delightful cross found the onrushing James McLaughlin and the marksman headed home his ninth goal of the season. The three points were almost wrapped up with less than ten minutes remaining as Traynor burst forward and picked out Allen inside the box but he would be denied by the legs of Tuffey. In a frantic finale, Crusaders tried their best to secure a share of the spoils as Gallagher palmed away Cushley’s free-kick, with the woodwork being hit for a second time as Thomas Burns’ daisy cutter rifled the post.

Oran Kearney’s men welcomed Linfield to The Showgrounds in the penultimate game of the season knowing that a win would send the battle for the Gibson Cup to the final day of the campaign. Due to the Blues having already secured the Irish Cup, the Stripes would be guaranteed European football for 2021-22. Linfield drew first blood after 14 minutes. Kirk Millar’s corner was flicked on by Mark Stafford and fellow central defender Mark Haughey headed home from close range. Home fans thought Curtis Allen had levelled from Aaron Canning’s long throw in on 18 minutes but the striker was booked for putting the ball in the net with his hand. Allen went close again after 33 minutes but volleyed over the top after an exchange between Glackin and McLaughlin. His perseverance was rewarded as the hosts deservedly equalised after 36 minutes. A flowing move ended with Allen getting on the end of a terrific Lyndon Kane cross to head past Chris Johns. An entertaining first 45 minutes drew to a close with Linfield going close to restoring their lead as Marty Gallagher did well to palm out Cammy Palmer’s shot and then reacted quickly to keep out Joel Cooper’s follow up. Coleraine, requiring a win to keep their title challenge alive, continued to force the issue in the second half. Aaron Jarvis got on the end of a Ben Doherty corner on 64 minutes but Johns palmed away his header. Blues defender Stafford then made a crucial intervention as Allen waited to connect with another great Kane delivery. Despite a fantastic effort on the night Oran Kearney’s men just couldn’t find a winner.

The season would conclude with a trip to Larne as the Stripes needed to better Glentoran’s result to secure a runners-up spot in the Danske Bank Premiership. It was a much changed Larne who grabbed the early advantage with a well worked ninth minute opener. Andy Scott went on a fine run before teeing up Matty Lusty and the teenager showed why he is so highly rated by drilling his shot home from outside the box. Curtis Allen looked set for a 21st minute tap in as Ben Doherty’s effort travelled goalwards after James McLaughlin powered his way into the box, but Graham Kelly was on hand to make a timely intervention. Coleraine survived a let off within seconds of the restart as man of the match McKendry broke the offside trap but was thwarted twice by Gallagher. Two goals in the space of eight minutes secured victory and second spot.  McLaughlin bundled in from close range after 49 minutes from Doherty’s cross, before Allen pounced to head home Doherty’s 57th minute delivery. With Glentoran beating Crusaders, Larne almost threw a spanner in the works when Scott’s cross was slashed against his own crossbar by a relieved Adam Mullan. Coleraine saw out the rest of the game comfortably and indeed had further chances to add to their tally through Stewart Nixon, Doherty and Stevie Lowry. It was fitting that Steven Douglas – who given a guard of honour by both teams before kick off in a mark of respect after his decision to retire – was given the captain’s armband as he came off the bench for the final few seconds of a season like no other.