JANUARY would see Coleraine progress in the Irish Cup as they also won four of their six Danske Bank Premiership fixtures…
Before a ball was kicked in January, the Bannsiders would have an arrival and two departures from their first-team squad. Oran Kearney swooped to land the services of the much sought after Eamon Fyfe from Dundela, whilst winger Evan McLaughlin moved back to Derry City following his temporary loan switch to The Showgrounds. Furthermore, Cathair Friel would go out on loan once again as Portadown swooped to land his services until the end of the campaign.
Coleraine were action against Linfield to kick start 2023 and unsurprisingly, the two teams would yet again cancel each other out for another 0-0 draw. David Healy’s men would have all the opportunities in the first-half as Eetu Vertainen headed wide from Jamie Mulgrew’s cross, with Martin Gallagher called into action to tip Daniel Finalyson’s header over the bar soon after. The Blues would go close on 53 minutes as Vertainen once again saw a header go off target, with the Finnish striker being frustrated later on as he was denied by Gallagher with a smart save. Coleraine – who had plenty of possession but lacked a killer pass – would create the final two chances of the game as debutant Fyfe hit a free-kick straight into the gloves of Chris Johns, before the same player would see a shot on the turn go over the crossbar.
The Irish Cup would then commence as the Bannsiders were paired with Championship high flyers Loughgall. A shock was on the cards at half-time as the visitors would take the lead as Robbie Norton crossed for Jackson Holmes to head home. Oran Kearney’s men needed a quick response in the second-half and it duly arrived on 53 minutes as Conor McKendry finally found a way past Daniel Devine, with Coleraine taking the lead six minutes later from the penalty spot as Matthew Shevlin kept his cool after Jamie Glackin was upended inside the box. In a devastating 14 minute spell, the Bannsiders completed the comeback as Michael McCrudden was alert to a loose ball to steer an effort into the bottom corner.
The postponed game against Newry City would be up next for the Stripes as the wet weather almost saw another postponement. However, the breakthrough arrived on 34 minutes as Josh Carson netted his second goal of the campaign with a well taken free-kick. After Lee Lynch would go close at the start of the second-half, Coleraine would go further ahead as McCrudden latched onto a throw-in before rifling a strike into the bottom corner. Kearney’s men will feel they should have put the game to bed as McKendry and Glackin would both go close, with the game turning on its head as Carson was harshly adjudged to have fouled James Teelan inside the box. This allowed Daniel Hughes to convert from 12 yards. However, despite a late chance by Teelan being thwarted, Coleraine held on for a deserved three points.
Before the home clash with Portadown up next, Coleraine announced their second arrival of the transfer window as Andy Scott made the switch to The Showgrounds from Larne. Despite the home side’s early pressure it was Portadown who opened the scoring. After a series of bounces Lyndon Kane attempted to head the ball back to Gallagher, however, Gregory Moorhouse nipped in to poke the ball past the goalkeeper to claim his second goal of the season on 12 minutes. After a series of corners another one finally paid off for the home side. Carson played a superb first time pass back out to corner taker McKendry, the wide man then brilliantly dribbled past two Portadown defenders before putting another dangerous cross into the box. The ball bounced kindly for Rodney Brown who finished well to score his first goal of the season on 26 minutes to tie up the game. The Bannsiders then took the lead on 36 minutes after McKendry entered the box after yet another fine piece of dribbling, the ball then fell to the league’s top goalscorer, Matthew Shevlin who needed no second invitation. The striker slotted the ball into the far corner with his left foot just inside the box to give Coleraine the lead. Just before the interval, a brilliant pass by Kane set Glackin free down the left wing with the creative midfielder playing a brilliant pass across the goal making it easy for McKendry to slot home his fifth league goal of the season right on the stroke of half-time to give the Bannsiders a 3-1 lead. The next piece of meaningful action came in the 64th minute when the Bannsiders extended their lead. McKendry played a short corner to Conor McDermott, the full-back then put an inviting ball into the front post area with McCrudden on hand to guide the ball in from close range making it 4-1.
A trip to north Belfast would be next as Coleraine were the visitors to Solitude in what would turn out to be yet another classic between the teams. The hosts would take the lead on 11 minutes as Ronan Hale’s strike from distance went under the body of Gallagher and into the net. After Kane would see a drive parried away by Nathan Gartside, the Reds would double their advantage as Ronan Doherty’s direct corner kick evaded a host of bodies and nestled into the bottom corner. However, Coleraine would respond and halved the deficit on 64 minutes as Shevlin was fouled inside the box and comfortably dispatched from 12 yards, with the same player making it two goals in as many minutes as he met Jamie Glackin’s cross to level the scores. The Bannsiders would have Gallagher to thank before the full-time whistle as the goalkeeper twice denied Joe Gormley, as well as Ronan Hale to preserve a point.
A few days later, Coleraine would face stiff competition from Carrick Rangers in midweek action at The Showgrounds. The Stripes would start the contest well and had two chances inside the first ten minutes as Shevlin headed into the body of Ross Glendinning from close range, before McKendry sent crisp effort wide from 20 yards. However, Kearney’s men would receive a blow just before the hour mark as Glackin was dismissed for a tackle, with Carrick almost making the numerical advantage count straight away as David Cushley flashed a guilt-edged chance wide. Just after Dean Jarvis almost teed up Shevlin and Scott, the Bannsiders would be awarded a penalty kick as Shevlin was fouled inside the area by Ronan Kalla. A confident Shevlin sent Glendinning the wrong way to make it 22 goals for the campaign. The lead would be severely tested with little more than ten minutes remaining as Nedas Maciulaitis laid the ball on a plate for Lloyd Anderson who was somehow denied by a world-class save from Gallagher.
The month could come to an end with a visit to Dungannon Swifts as Coleraine aimed to preserve their unbeaten run through January. The first half hour would be a cagey affair as Shevlin and Scott both had sights of goal blocked. However, the pair would combine for the opening goal in first-half stoppage time as Shevlin fired under the body of Declan Dunne. After Scott fired into the side netting on 66 minutes, Coleraine doubled their lead as a corner kick found its way to Fyfe and the striker was in the right place at the right time to poke the ball home for his first goal for the club. A third goal would arrive on 89 minutes as Carson centred the ball for Shevlin who rifled in his 50th for the club, with the striker being denied a hat-trick as his header clipped the post late on.
On transfer deadline day, James McLaughlin would complete a loan move to Carrick Rangers until the end of the season.
Player of the Month: Matthew Shevlin
Goal of the Month: Josh Carson vs Newry City