THE final month of 2021 would prove to be a frustrating one for Coleraine as they were winless in the Danske Bank Premiership despite reaching the BetMcLean League Cup final…
As Christmas loomed, Coleraine would host Linfield in the opening fixture of the month and things started well for the Bannsiders as Rodney Brown headed home from Conor McKendry’s corner kick. However, that lead would be quickly extinguished as Kirk Millar crashed a shot against the crossbar but Christy Manzinga was on hand to tuck away the rebound before the half-time whistle. The Blues turned the game on its head within three minutes of the second half…in controversial circumstances. Stevie Fallon rifled home from 25 yards but Coleraine players protested that referee Tim Marshall had obstructed their attempts to block Fallon’s shot, whilst handling the ball in the process. However, after consulting with his officials, Marshall awarded the goal. The home side stepped up the pressure as they searched for an equaliser. Matthew Shevlin touched Glackin’s corner onto the crossbar and then drilled over on the hour mark, before Lyndon Kane then delivered a great cross into an inviting area and Shevlin glanced a header inches wide. The hosts had strong penalty appeals waved away on 68 minutes as Shevlin appeared to be pushed as he tried to connect with Stephen O’Donnell”s cross. It was that man Shevlin who had a chance to grab a late leveller from Eoin Bradley’s cutback seven minutes from time but he smashed his shot straight at Johns as Linfield held on for a 2-1 win.
The Stripes would lose for a second successive game the following weekend as they went down to a single goal defeat against Glenavon at Mourneview Park. Both teams would enjoy chances in the first-half as Peter Campbell and Andrew Waterworth went close for Gary Hamilton’s men, whilst at the other end, Conor McKendry, Matthew Shevlin and Rodney Brown would all see chances come and go. There would be a contentious decision early in the second-half as Eoin Bradley went to ground under the challenge of Danny Wallace who was the last defender but referee Andrew Davey waved play on. The game looked like it would be settled by a solitary goal and it duly arrived on 83 minutes as the ball was presented to Matthew Snoddy on the right-hand side and the former Coleraine loanee hit a crisp effort into the bottom corner.
A place in the final of the BetMcLean League Cup final was up for grabs as Coleraine hosted Warrenpoint Town in the semi-final of the competition. The Bannsiders would hit the front on six minutes as Matthew Shevlin arrowed into the net from Conor McKendry’s through ball, before things went from bad to worse as ‘Point defender Gavin Peers was dismissed on 43 minutes. That would prove to be a turning point as the Stripes made their numerical advantage count on the stroke of half-time as McKendry found the bottom corner to double the lead. A third goal duly arrived on 56 minute as the lively McKendry crossed the ball into the back post and Shevlin was in right place at the right time to expertly cushion his header into the net. Just after Glackin went close to adding a fourth, the travelling support had a goal to celebrate of their own on 59 minutes. A ball into the box by Alan O’Sullivan wasn’t cleared by the Coleraine defence and ‘Point midfielder Kealan Dillon made them pay with an arrowed finish into the bottom corner. Any prospects of mounting a comeback would be ended less than two minutes later as Shevlin was upended inside the box by Luke Gallagher. The ball was grabbed by Shevlin who made no mistake from 12 yards for his first hat-trick in senior football. Oran Kearney was able to utilise his bench and it would be two arrivals to the pitch that would help to add to his side’s tally. A lovely cushioned header by Cathair Friel released James McLaughlin inside the box and the predatory striker made no mistake to make it a welcome return from injury. The holders were able to add further gloss to the scoreline with the goal of the night on 86 minutes. A neat passage of play involving Ronan Wilson and Kane presented the ball to Glackin and he sent a curling effort beyond Mitchell and into the back of the net from 25 yards.
Next up in the league was a home clash against Crusaders as Coleraine enjoyed a Corporate Lunch before the game. In a first-half that failed to live up to expectations, there would only be two half chances as Paul Heatley dragged an effort by the far post, whilst Jamie Glackin’s lob failed to trouble Jonny Tuffey. Despite the first-half being a low key affair, the woodwork would be struck just four minutes after the restart as a neat passage of play resulted in Jordan Forsythe’s effort cannoning off the crossbar. Kearney went to his bench to bring on James McLaughlin in a bid to take the lead but Stephen Baxter’s side would rue their luck as Gareth Deane made a superb stop to deny Declan Caddell, before Heatley arrowed over when well positioned inside the area. However, the chance of the game would arrive on 86 minutes as a superb delivery into the box by BJ Burns met Adam Lecky at the back post. The substitute looked destined to find the back of the net but his header went wide of the far post.
A re-arranged Danske Bank Premiership fixture against Glentoran would next be on the cards after the original contest was called off due to the league’s COVID-19 policy. After not winning their last three games, Coleraine needed a fast start but it would prove to be the opposite as a pin-point corner-kick from Shay McCartan was headed into the net by Ruaidhri Donnelly on four minutes. To their credit, the Stripes stuck to their task as Stephen O’Donnell, Rodney Brown and Patrick Kelly all tried to find an equaliser in the first-half. Mick McDermott’s side would start the second-half strongly by forcing several early corners and Bobby Burns went a whisker away from doubling their lead as his daisy cutter was deflected inches wide of the far post. However, the travelling support would be sent into raptures on 62 minutes as McMenamin beat O’Donnell to the ball and advanced into the penalty area. The ex-Cliftonville man had the patience and vision to pick out Jay Donnelly who had the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net. Glentoran – who came into the contest on a 12 match unbeaten run – were content to hit Coleraine on the counter attack and it almost paid off as Seanan Clucas picked up possession and waited for the overlapping run of McMenamin. The lively winger looked up and pulled the trigger but it didn’t hit the target. With ten minutes to go, Coleraine would have a massive opportunity to set up a grandstand finish as the ball wasn’t cleared by the Glentoran defence and landed at the feet of Glackin, who hit an instinctive finish wide.
The annual Boxing Day fixture against Ballymena United would be played on Warden Street a day later (December 27). For a second successive match, the Stripes would concede an early goal as the Sky Blues bagged the opener on four minutes. A long kick up the park by ‘keeper Sam Johnston was flicked on by Kenny Kane which allowed Paul McElroy to burst into the box and slot past Gareth Deane. The visitors would enjoy plenty of possession but couldn’t convert as Josh Carson, Conor McKendry, Stephen O’Donnell and Aaron Traynor all had sights of goal. The visitors would suffer a blow early in the second-half as Deane was stretchered off after a nasty landing, however, their pressure would finally pay off as substitute James McLaughlin delightfully lobbed the ball over an advancing Sam Johnston for the equaliser. Further chances would come and go for Coleraine and they suffered a late sucker punch as Ryan Waide’s cross to the back post was blasted in by David Parkhouse for a cruel twist.