COLERAINE would endure a difficult March as they were beaten in both the Irish Cup and BetMcLean League Cup…
The Bannsiders would start the month with a home visit of Larne in a re-arranged game due to Oran Kearney’s side reaching the BetMcLean League Cup final. In a first-half that craved any creativity, Tiernan Lynch’s side would come within a lick of paint of taking the lead on 15 minutes as John Herron’s turn and touch allowed Ronan Hale to pick up possession at the edge of the area. The striker hit a daisy cutter that looked certain to find the net but it cannoned off the post. Larne – who had won five out of their last seven fixtures in all competitions prior heading to the north coast – would threaten from distance yet again as Lee Lynch’s well driven effort was palmed around the post by Gareth Deane. However, the deadlock would be broken on 71 minutes as Lynch chased the ball down the right-hand side and squared to Ben Doherty inside the area. The former Coleraine ace took a good first touch before burying the second to make it three goals against the Bannsiders this season. The final 15 minutes would be exhausting to watch as Coleraine had a goal disallowed when Stephen Lowry was denied an equaliser for a foul on Conor Devlin, before the visitors also had a goal ruled off as Lee Bonis was in an offside position from David McDaid’s through ball. Minutes later, Rodney Brown was on hand to clear McDaid’s lob off the line, whilst at the other end, Devlin would make smart stops to deny Josh Carson and Shevlin from distance. The game would be summed up by two defining moments in stoppage time as McDaid’s delicate lob hit the crossbar with Coleraine capitalising on that good fortunate as Matthew Shevlin prodded home to keep the Bannsiders in touch of the teams above them in the standings.
An Irish Cup tie away to Cliftonville would follow three days later and the Bannsiders would take the lead with their first meaningful attack on 25 minutes. A fine passage of playing involving Patrick Kelly and Lyndon Kane sent the full-back through on goal and he arrowed an unstoppable strike into the back of the net. The Stripes would end the first-half strongly as Rodney Brown headed into the arms of Luke McNicholas from Jamie Glackin’s free-kick, Matthew Shevlin would send a strike over the crossbar, with Brown trying his luck with 40 yard lob that went inches over McNicholas’ goal. However, the Reds would move level on 55 minutes. A dangerous cross on the right-hand side by McDonagh was diverted into the net by Joe Gormley, although contact with the ball looked like occurring by his hand. On 64 minutes, Cliftonville would complete the turnaround as the Bannsiders cheaply lost possession inside their own half with Jamie McDonagh sending an unstoppable effort into the top left corner. The visitors went in the search of an equaliser and were denied a penalty kick after Matthew Shevlin appeared to be fouled not once, but twice, inside the box but referee Lee Tavinder booked the striker for an apparent dive as the Bannsiders exited the competition.
The tough assignments showed no signs of letting up as Coleraine would travel to Crusaders for a midweek fixture. The hosts would get a foot hold into the game and threatened on 14 minutes as Gareth Deane dived low to keep out Ross Clarke’s effort, before Jordan Owens fired over the crossbar from Jordan O’Rourke’s clever cut back. On 21 minutes, a good passage of play from the Crues resulted in Philip Lowry blazing over from just outside the area. However, Lowry would go one better five minutes later as he was alive to a quick free-kick to squeeze the ball under the body of Gareth Deane. Chances would be at a premium in the second 45 minutes with substitute Johnny McMurray testing the gloves of Deane, with Stephen O’Donnell going close with a header from a corner kick. The travelling support would be left frustrated on 84 minutes as Patrick Kelly released Jamie Glackin inside the box with the winger would be thwarted by Tuffey. Just a minute later, a header forward by Josh Carson found substitute Curtis Allen but the marksman arrowed wide from an acute angle.
Halfway through the month would see the BetMcLean League Cup final in the diary as Coleraine and Cliftonville locked horns yet again. After a goalless first-half, Coleraine would surge two goals ahead as Matthew Shevlin prodded home from Lyndon Kane’s superb run and pass, before Stephen Lowry rifled home a half volley after the Reds failed to clear a corner. However, Cliftonville would reduce their arrears on 74 minutes as a crisp cross by Ryan Curran met the head of Joe Gormley and the marksman made no mistake as he diverted the ball into the bottom corner. The Stripes looked like doing enough to get over the line as Aaron Traynor was in the right place at the right time to block Gormley’s goal bound effort but that still wouldn’t be enough as the Reds pulled level. A throw-in into the box was cleared with substitute Paul O’Neill having an easy task to slot home. The Bannsiders would suffer a blow just two minutes into extra-time as James McLaughlin was dismissed for an off-the-ball incident involving Chris Curran. Paddy McLaughlin’s side almost made the extra man count on 102 minutes as Deane made a fine stop to deny O’Neill. Heartbreakingly, Cliftonville would edge ahead on 105 minutes as Chris Curran crossed for O’Neill who blasted the ball into the net. Coleraine’s task would be made even tougher on 107 minutes as Cliftonville went 4-2 ahead. The ball presented itself to Ryan Curran in space and the striker had the vision to pick out Gormley who had the simple task of firing into an empty net. Just after Gormley would be denied a hat-trick by the offside flag, Coleraine would pull a late goal back as Curtis Allen found the bottom corner from just inside the box. A dream of securing back-to-back League Cup triumphs just came up short.
Coleraine would have to lick their wounds as they faced relegation-threatened Portadown at Shamrock Park. The Bannsiders would enjoy the better chances in the first-half as Greg Hall had to clear a header off the line, Stephen Lowry would see a header saved and Andrew Mitchell would be prevented his first Coleraine goal after a superb stop by Jethren Barr. Paul Doolin’s side would make all the early running in the second-half as a snapshot from outside the box by Stephen Teggart took a deflection off Harry Anderson, with Gareth Deane having to adjust his feet and save the ball. The pressure would finally tell for the Ports as they edged in front on 64 minutes as Salley beat the offside trap – from Teggart’s great through ball – and slotted past Deane. Five minutes later, it got even better for the hosts as Jamall Dupree’s cross found the onrushing Anderson at the back post who couldn’t miss from close range. The Stripes would bring on youngster Kirk McLaughlin and he would send a header harmlessly wide, with the Bannsiders missing a guilt edge chance at the end as Bradley poked wide from a cut back as they lost 2-0.
Oran Kearney’s men knew they needed a positive result from a lengthy midweek trip to Warrenpoint Town if they were to secure their top-six status for the post-split fixtures. The opening goal would arrive on nine minutes as neat play involving Lewis Tosh and Josh Carson presented the ball to Aaron Traynor on the left-hand side. The full-back would send an inviting ball into the box that just missed Curtis Allen but not Stephen O’Donnell who had an easy task of finding the back of the net. The ‘Point’s response was a good one as Steven Ball headed over from Kealan Dillon’s corner, although, their endeavour would be rewarded on 26 minutes as Daniel McKenna pounced on some hesitant defending before arrowing into the bottom corner. After the hosts spurned several chances, remarkably, the Stripes would make Warrenpoint pay for those missed chances by netting three times in a devastating seven minute spell. The first, which was on 38 minutes, saw Tosh play an exquisite diagonal ball into Allen who calmly nodded the ball over the head of Mitchell and into the net. Five minutes later, Allen would turn from scorer to provider as he flicked on Gareth Deane’s punt forward into the path of Kirk McLaughlin. The striker – who was handed his first senior start after 32 goals for the U20’s – composed himself to emphatically lob the ball over Mitchell. Then, sixty seconds later, Coleraine would be celebrating again as a miscued defensive clearance was pounced upon by Allen who darted into the box and calmly rolled the ball into the bottom corner. The border club needed a positive start to the second-half and it duly arrived on 48 minutes as a corner kick was flicked on by Ball into a dangerous area which presented Fra McCaffrey with the easy task of rolling the ball into the back of the net. On 87 minutes, referee Shane Andrews would point to the spot after Josh Carson was brought down inside the area. The responsibility was given to Andrew Mitchell who netted his first goal for the club since his January switch from Glentoran. A welcome victory for Coleraine who got the three points they required in a seven-goal thriller.
The month would end with another goal fest as Coleraine fell to a 3-2 home defeat against Glenavon. The visitors took the lead in spectacular style after Conor McCloskey had been fouled on the right hand side of the Coleraine box. Peter Campbell decided to go for goal despite the awkward angle and did well to beat Gareth Deane with 16 minutes on the clock. Seven minutes after the restart, Glenavon were 2-0 ahead when Jack O’Mahony drove forward and, with a lovely ball, found Matthew Fitzpatrick who finished superbly with a powerful low shot under the goalkeeper. They could have had a third when Campbell tried his luck with a free kick which was 20 yards from goal, but he was unable to find the target. The Bannsiders should have pulled a goal back when Josh Carson, who burst through on goal, and Kirk McLaughlin both came within a whisker of making it 2-1, but both players were to be denied by the frame of the goal. McLaughlin was unlucky again when he hit the post from a Curtis Allen cross. The ball was cleared for a Coleraine corner but Glenavon broke through Campbell. He slipped Jack O’Mahony through and he made no mistake as he went one-on-one with Deane to make it 3-0. McLaughlin finally got his goal on 76 minutes when he bundled the ball into the net, but in the aftermath James Taylor was sent off for clashing with the Coleraine forward as they came out of the goalmouth. Fitzpatrick went in goal for the Lurgan Blues. The deficit was reduced to one goal when Allen scored from the penalty spot after McLaughlin was fouled on the edge of the box, sending the stand-in goalkeeper the wrong way. However, Coleraine were reduced to 10 men themselves when Mullan was sent off for the Bannsiders as the game rolled into stoppage time. He bodychecked Campbell as he burst through on goal meaning he collected a second caution. The win was Glenavon’s first at the Coleraine Showgrounds since October 2018.