As the local football calendar gently makes its way toward the annual Boxing Day fixture, for many it is all eyes on Belfast’s traditional Big Two match up at The Oval. Linfield and Glentoran are both currently sitting in unfamiliar territory with the Blues back in 4th and the Glens slipping into the bottom half of the table in 7th place.
Linfield know that despite the 14-point gap separating them from League leaders Coleraine, you would be a fool to rule them out of the title race at this stage of the season, not least given their 2 games in hand but also considering their incredible end of season form in 2016/17.
Conversely, Glentoran are a side in serious trouble. You have to look as far back as 18th November for their last victory in the league. Since then, dropping points to Ards and Carrick Rangers – both beneath them in the current league standings.
The pressure continues to grow on Glentoran boss Gary Haveron and this latest poor run of form could not have come at a worse time. Glentoran go into the annual boxing day fixture without a win in their previous 6 home games. In thinking of the Boxing Day match itself you have to look back to 26 December 2011 for Glentoran’s last victory in this occasion. Indeed, since that result, Glentoran have only recorded two league wins over their Belfast rivals in the 19 games played – a shocking record for a team of Glentoran’s stature.
David Healy’s team are a group that has shared out their goalscoring responsibility throughout the squad, defenders Mark Haughey and Aaron Burns are at the forefront of the club’s scoring charts. Not to be forgetting the 10 goals provided by Jordan Stewart and Andrew Waterworth, former Glentoran players whose presence will be greeted with expected disdain.
This match, more than any in recent seasons, Haveron must look to provide that rallying call for the players. With a fan base who have had to dampen their expectations of success, it would not be a stretch to ask for the players to be up for a game of this magnitude. Players like Elliott Morris and Curtis Allen have been the saving grace through these most recent dark times and the fans will once again look to them to lead from the front.
Despite the unthinkable league position and incredible recent head-to-head record, Glentoran fans will still expect an impassioned and determined performance from their team. A win could springboard a mid-season revival for the Oval side, a loss may well be the first step to manager Gary Haveron’s ‘Oval and Out’.