Season Review

April & May

2021/22 Season Review: April/May

COLERAINE would kick-start their post-split fixtures in April but a dream of European football would be dashed in the play-offs…

The first post-split fixture would see Coleraine travel to Larne and the Bannsiders knew they needed all three points if they were to close the gap on their east Antrim rivals. The visitors would create the first chance of the game on five minutes as a long ball by Gareth Deane was flicked on by Matthew Shevlin into the path of Eoin Bradley. This released the striker clean through on goal but he failed to adjust his feet and Larne were able to clear their lines. On 23 minutes, the Stripes would go within a lick of paint from taking the lead. A diagonal ball released Josh Carson down the right-hand side and his cross met Bradley but his header struck the outside of the post with Rohan Ferguson beaten. That miss would be further compounded a minute later as Larne took the lead. A well worked involving Fuad Sule and Mark Randall released Ben Doherty on the right-hand-side and his cross was parried which allowed Lee Bonis to tap home unmarked. After gaining momentum, Larne would grab their second goal of the evening before the break as Sule’s header was picked up in his own half by Randall and the midfielder was able to burst into space unopposed and hit a crisp effort into the bottom corner. On a cold evening in east Antrim, it would prove to be all one-way traffic as Bonis picked out Doherty but he could only fire straight down the throat of Gareth Deane, before Graham Kelly’s effort from the edge of the area trickled wide. Oran Kearney brought on Curtis Allen from the bench with the Stripes going close as Bradley’s free-kick sailed inches wide. The hosts would add a third on 90 minutes as Lee Lynch teased the ball up at the back post for Bonis to acrobatically volley into the back of the net.

Next up for Coleraine would be a visit of Crusaders to The Showgrounds and it would prove to be a first-half to forget for the Bannsiders as they trailed 3-0 at the interval. In what would prove to be a very quiet opening quarter of an hour, the hosts would take the lead on 17 minutes. A cross field pass found the run of Billy Joe Burns and after his cross wasn’t converted by Philip Lowry, the ball would land at the feet of Adam Lecky who converted from close range. It is often said that the hardest part of football is to find the back of the net and Coleraine’s lack of proficiency in front of goal would be punished on 37 minutes. Once again, a ball would cut through the hosts’ defence and Paul Heatley made no mistake by rippling the back of the net. Five minutes later, the Stripes would go into the half-time interval three goals behind as a corner-kick wasn’t properly cleared. This resulted in a crisp volley by Daniel Larmour arrowing into the back of the net to make it two goals in as many appearances for the former Glenavon defender. Coleraine needed a bright start to the second-half if they were to have any chance of a miraculous recovery. Unfortunately, things turned the other way as Crusaders grabbed a fourth on 47 minutes. The industrious Burns would see his cross into the box being deflected but that would still be enough for Jude Winchester to get a meaningful touch to send the ball home. Just after Johnny Tuffey denied Patrick Kelly with a smart save, Coleraine would net at the death as Josh Carson fired home a curling effort from the edge of the area.

The tough games would continue for Coleraine as title chasing Cliftonville made the midweek trip to the Ballycastle Road. With less than a minute on the clock, the Bannsiders would have the first sight of goal as Josh Carson did well to rob Cliftonville inside their own half and burst into the box. The midfielder would send a dangerous cross into the box that just missed a vital touch by Matthew Shevlin. However, the deadlock would be broken on 18 minutes as referee Jamie Robinson – with the aid of his assistant – pointed to the spot after Rodney Brown was adjudged to have brought down Jamie McDonagh inside the area. The ball would be picked by Ryan Curran who comfortably dispatched from 12 yards. After Curtis Allen saw a strike from distance sail harmlessly over the crossbar, Cliftonville would double their lead on 36 minutes. A long ball forward by Rory Hale set Joe Gormley through on goal and the striker made no mistake as he found the bottom corner with an ice-cool finish. With a quarter of an hour remaining, the Stripes would be dealt with a blow as Jamie Glackin received his marching orders from referee Robinson following an exchange of words between the pair.  However, despite that setback, Coleraine would get a lifeline with five minutes to go as Brown’s flick on released Eoin Bradley inside the box. The striker still had a lot to do as he burst inside the area, evaded the challenge of Colin Coates before chipping the ball over the advancing Luke McNicholas. Unfortunately, that’s as good as it got for Coleraine who couldn’t force him an equaliser.

Coleraine needed a morale boosting victory and it would come at home to Glentoran as they came out on top in a five-goal thriller at The Showgrounds. Chances would be at a premium in the first-half and Glentoran would spurn a big opportunity on 19 minutes as the ball was sent through to Conor McMenamin. The winger – who netted a late winner when the sides last met in January – would fire wide from inside the box with the goal at his mercy. The second-half started with Matthew Shevlin being utilised from the bench and he would be the man to fire the Bannsiders in front on 47 minutes. A strong run from Patrick Kelly would be ended by a foul from Caolan Marron as Shevlin comfortably dispatched from the spot. However, that lead would only last six minutes as the visitors drew level. A header forward by Jay Donnelly wasn’t cleared by the Coleraine defence and this allowed Michael O’Connor to arrow a finish into the bottom corner. On the hour mark, Coleraine would go 2-1 ahead as the ball was recycled by Kelly into the advancing run of Aaron Jarvis. The midfielder would hit a crisp, low effort that sailed into the bottom corner despite the best efforts of McCarey to keep the ball out. Things would get even better on 74 minutes with the influential Kelly involved as the Stripes grabbed a decisive third. The teenage star would find James McLaughlin with an exquisite pass with the outside of his boot and the striker simply squared the ball for Shevlin to tap home from close range. After Shevlin would be denied a hat-trick by legs of McCarey, the visitors would half the deficit in stoppage time as substitute Ruaidhri Donnelly rippled the back of the net from 10 yards but Coleraine held firm for a deserved victory.

The final day of the regulation season would see the Stripes travel to Windsor Park, with Linfield needing to equal or better Cliftonville’s result away to Glentoran to win the Gibson Cup. In front of a vocal crowd at the National Stadium, Linfield would make the breakthrough on 41 minutes as a corner kick by Niall Quinn was headed in by Hall who gave Marty Gallagher no chance. With the last kick of the first-half, David Healy’s side would go further ahead as Ethan Devine crafted a wonderful through ball for Chris McKee who expertly found the bottom corner. On 64 minutes, former Coleraine ‘keeper Johns would have to keep his concentration to hold Carson’s half volley from outside the box. At the other end, Jordan Stewart had the vision to pick out Matthew Clarke on the left-hand side but the full-back failed to test Gallagher. Kearney emptied the bench by bringing on Curtis Allen and Kirk McLaughlin to add more firepower and that almost paid dividends as Allen fired over the bar after the ball wasn’t cleared by Hall.

In May, Coleraine would be away to Larne in the semi-final of the Europa Conference League play-off and Tiernan Lynch’s men carried on their good form heading into the contest as they took the lead on 12 minutes. A corner kick into the box was headed on by Kofi Balmer, and whilst his attempt looked to be going wide, the ball took a deflection off Rodney Brown and into the net. That goal gave Larne a real lift and they went inches away from doubling their lead ten minutes later. A powerful drive by Lee Lynch was parried by Gallagher and Mark Randall’s rebound attempt looked goal bound but Stephen O’Donnell was there to block the shot for a corner kick. Just seven minutes after the restart, the home support would be left feeling frustrated yet again as Larne spurned a great chance to double their lead. A pass by Bonis inside the area allowed David McDaid a clear sight of goal but his tame strike was held by the busy Gallagher. Coleraine managed to stay in the game and after the introduction of Matthew Shevlin and Aaron Jarvis, they looked more threatening and started to cause problems. On 56 minutes, neat footwork by Patrick Kelly released Jamie Glackin in space with the midfielder’s drive being held by Rohan Ferguson. However, with just over ten minutes to go, the Bannsiders would see a big chance come and go. A flick on by Eoin Bradley released Stephen Lowry inside the box, and after the Limavady man mustered some space, he could only drag an effort wide of the near post. With six minutes additional time signalled, the Stripes would have one final chance as hesitance in the Larne box resulted in the ball landing at the feet of Curtis Allen, but the substitute failed to find the target as he could only stab the ball wide. As Coleraine pushed everyone forward, they would be punished with virtually the last kick of the ball as Andy Scott was sent clean through on goal and he had the vision to pick out Randall who tapped the ball into an empty net.