COLERAINE have one last shot of securing Europe football as they face Larne in the play-off semi-final at Inver Park this evening (KO 7:45pm)…
UEFA Conference League Play-Off Semi-Final
Coleraine know they have one final opportunity of playing European football in the summer through the end-of-season European play-off ties. The Bannsiders finished their league campaign with a 2-0 defeat to champions Linfield but hope to have the services of a few names who missed out through injury. Coleraine have been regular competitors in continental competition in recent years thanks to runners-up finishes in the league in 2018, 2020 and 2021, therefore, they will hope to add 2022 to that list.
Larne have fond memories of the play-off route having come through it last year to secure their first ever taste of European football. Tiernan Lynch’s side had a memorable run after beating Bala Town and Aarhus to reach the third qualifying round. The east Antrim side ended the season strongly by winning two and drawing three of their post-split fixtures.
The two clubs met each other on the opening night of the season as the Bannsiders were the visitors to Inver Park. After Matthew Shevlin and Mark Randall threatened at either end, the hosts would take the lead just after the half hour mark as Kofi Balmer headed in from Ben Doherty’s corner kick. However, Coleraine equalised on 51 minutes as Lyndon Kane’s cross was headed into the net by Aaron Traynor and there would be a melee four minutes later after David McDaid’s late tackle on Traynor. On 68 minutes, Kearney’s men would take the lead as Conor McKendry’s free-kick was headed into the net by Matthew Shevlin. That advantage would only last five minutes as McDaid made it 2-2, and just when it looked like the game would end in a draw, the Inver Reds would pocket all three points as Doherty netted against his former club on 87 minutes, with Lee Lynch adding a late fourth.
In November, the Bannsiders hosted Larne under the lights in another game that had plenty of goal mouth action. Oran Kearney’s men would take the lead on 25 minutes as the ball presented itself to Jamie Glackin inside the box and the midfielder arrowed an unstoppable effort into the bottom corner. Despite the momentum of going a goal ahead, Coleraine would concede 11 minutes later through a once familiar source as Mark Randall picked out Ben Doherty who turned and finished past Gareth Deane. However, another former player would net against his former club as Conor McKendry would get in on the act before the half-time whistle as his strike deflected off Cian Bolger and into the net. The three points would be wrapped up for the Stripes a quarter of an hour into the second-half as Lyndon Kane rifled home a penalty after Matthew Shevlin was brought down inside the area.
Two months ago, Coleraine and Larne would play out an entertaining 1-1 draw at The Showgrounds. 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. Hale would once again threaten as his strike failed to find the target, with Herron having the same fate just before the half hour mark. In truth, Coleraine failed to test Conor Devlin in the opening 45 minutes as Deane was called into action to save Hale’s drive from the edge of the area. 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 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, 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 Shevlin prodded home to keep the Bannsiders in touch of the teams above them in the standings.
In the first post-split fixture last month, the Stripes would go within a lick of paint from taking the lead on 23. 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. Just after the half hour mark, the hosts would waste another good opening as the ball was worked out to the lively Tomas Cosgrove. The full-back cut the ball back to John Herron who blazed over from the edge of the area. However, 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. The chances would keep arriving at Inver Park as Matthew Shevlin headed over from Bradley’s cross, before Bonis struck the post at the other end from Cosgrove’s pass and then Doherty couldn’t find a way past Deane after being sent through on goal by Randall. The hosts would add a third on 90 minutes as Lynch teased the ball up at the back post for Bonis to acrobatically volley into the back of the net.
“We will get a week training behind us and we will try and get everyone freshened up and a lot of bodies back and ready to go again,” said Kearney after the game against Linfield.
“I think by the time we finish our training as such, we will know who our opposition is, so it’s important we get a really good week and we make sure bodies and minds are fresh for a big push.
“Jamie Glackin’s suspension is cleared so he will come back into it.
“Lyndon is more wear and tear in relation to he’s been sore over the last few weeks and we haven’t been able to give him any time of respite.
“Stephen Lowry has played every game this season and we are hoping he won’t be too far away, Aaron Traynor missed a game through concussion and came back but was really, really tight all week and it was one of those if we played him against Linfield and he came off with tightness, then he won’t be able to train and then into a play-off game with no real substance behind him.
“You’re hoping that those guys will be back plus one or two others.”
The match referee will be Ross Dunlop.
The assistant referees are Ryan Kelsey and George Argyropoulos.
Shane Andrews has been selected as the fourth official.
Coleraine supporters can buy tickets for the fixture which can be purchased HERE.
If you are not feeling yourself this evening and you have symptoms which you feel are similar to COVID-19, please stay away from the stadium and think of others.
If you have access to a lateral flow/PCR test at home, we would encourage you to check yourself before coming to the game.
If you have been in contact with a positive case and haven’t yet been contacted by track and trace, please do not come to the game.
As ever, those unable to watch the fixture can follow the latest developments via the club’s official Twitter account (@ColeraineFC).