Glenavon’s Conor McCloskey last night picked the pockets of Glentoran by grabbing a dramatic late winner at the Oval.
The Lurgan Blues appeared to be heading for their seventh defeat of the Danske Bank Premiership campaign as they trailed to a first half penalty kick from Darren Murray.
Player-manager Gary Hamilton came off the substitutes’ bench to grab an equaliser, before McCloskey produced a wonderful finish to win it.
The result moves Hamilton’s team to within six points of Crusaders – and the team’s are due to clash at Seaview on Friday night.
Glenavon had an early let-off when Seamus Sharkey was caught in possession by John Herron after only five minutes. The midfielder cut the ball back to Robbie McDaid, but the striker lost his footing, allowing the embarrassed defender to get back and tidy up.
After that early scare, the visitors upped the ante. New signing from Linfield, Robert Garrett, lofted a great pass into the path Stephen Murray, who could only blast his shot over the crossbar.
Then, striker Andy Mitchell whipped in a great ball from the right which was met by Cameron Stewart, whose header flashed high and wide.
The home fans at last had something to warm them at the other end when McDaid broke free on the left before whipping in a great cross that had Johnny Tuffey at full stretch to keep out.
But it was Glentoran goalkeeper Dwayne Nelson, who produced a moment of magic on 31 minutes, diving to claw away a blockbuster from Mitchell out of the top corner – a brilliant save.
Murray then almost benefitted from a poor Tuffey clearance on 37 minutes. Instead of going for power, he attempted a cheeky chip that landed in the gloves of the relieved goalkeeper.
But the home team were in front two minutes later. McDaid was unlucky to see his shot deflected on to the base of the post, but the striker quickly picked up the rebound. Although he wasn’t in a threatening position, defender Caolan Marron needlessly bundled him down and referee Jamie Robinson was left with little option but to award a penalty kick.
Murray stepped up to confidently send Tuffey the wrong way from the spot.
Glenavon produced a positive response and were almost level seconds before the break. McCloskey’s corner kick pin-balled about the box, but was finally met by Sharkey, whose shot crashed against the top of the crossbar.
It was the visitors who were early out of the blocks after the half-time cuppa. Garrett tossed in a great cross to Murray, but his header lacked conviction.
The game, however, developed into a drab affair with little incident until defender Calum Birney roared forward on 73 minutes to meet a Paul Gallagher corner kick only to see header skim past the post.
Glenavon had a good chance to test Nelson seconds later when Birney flattened Mitchell with a clumsy tackle 20 yards out only for substitute Andy Hall to curl the free kick over the top.
But they had better luck eight minutes from time. Substitute Eoin Wearen managed to flick the ball on for Hamilton, who toe-poked the ball past a stranded Nelson.
Worse was to follow for the home team. Aaron Harmon’s headed clearance managed to send McCloskey free through the middle, and when confronted by Nelson, he managed to fizz the ball into the bottom corner and give the Lurgan Blues a vital win and three important points.
GLENTORAN: Nelson, Garrett (Peers 26), Kane, Birney, Gallagher, Herron, McDaid, Kerr, Pepper, Murray (Allen 85), Gwiazda.
Unused subs: Morris, McMahon, Henderson, Gordon, McCarthy.
GLENAVON: Tuffey, Marron, Daniels, Mitchell (Hamilton 76), Harmon, McCloskey, Murray (Wearen 68), Singleton, Garrett, Stewart (Hall 55), Sharkey.
Unused subs: Larmour, Norton, Jenkins, Jameson.
REFEREE: Jamie Robinson.