Rice the penalty hero after night of play-off drama

GLENAVON are still an Irish Premier League club, but only after an astonishing night of drama at Mourneview Park.

The Lurgan Blues, 1-0 up on First Division Bangor after the first leg of the promotion/relegation play-off at Clandeboye Park, contrived to the tie 1-0 after a second half goal from David Irvine.

The teams couldn't be separated after a nerve-racking 30 minutes of extra-time and with Glenavon's top flight status hanging by a thread, it was down to the lottery of the penalty shoot-out.

Goalkeeper Paul Rice, who was at fault for Irvine's goal, went from villain to hero as he saved two Bangor penalties, and then hit Glenavon's winning spot-kick himself as the Lurgan Blues triumphed 4-2.

There were amazing scenes at the end as a bumper home crowd celebrated the club's last-gasp reprieve.

However, fans were still left questioning how Glenavon ended up on the brink of relegation for the second time in the space of three seasons in the Premier League.

Glenavon made three changes from the first leg with Neal Gawley returning from injury in place of Paul Walsh, Marty Hunter replaced Ian Wallace at centre back and David Ward was picked up front at the expense of Marty Haveron.

There were tactical changes too from Malone. Gerard McMahon, used on the right-wing in the first leg, was picked as a support striker behind David Ward with Friday night's match-winner Stephen Magennis reverting to the right.

Despite the alterations and a quick start in the opening 10 minutes, Glenavon quickly went flat and a shot from McMahon and a late effort from Gawley were the sum of their first half attacking threat.

Despite needing to win on the night to stand any chance of promotion, Bangor were almost entirely absent as an attacking force in the opening 45 minutes.

However, it was all change as the start of the second half and Glenavon had no answer as the visitors piled on the pressure.

The catalyst for the crucial opening goal was a poor piece of goalkeeping from Rice, who needlessly fumbled Paul McDowell's weak shot wide for a corner.

From the resulting set-piece Rice flapped at Dominic Melly's delivery and Irvine saw his shot scrambled off the line by Michael McKerr. As Bangor attempted to force home the rebound, Glenavon again put the ball behind.

There was no escape from the second corner however as another Rice error presented Irvine with the chance and the midfielder calmly slotted home.

By now the nerves were fraying in the home support and Glenavon rarely looked like forcing an equaliser until a great chance came Gawley's way 15 minutes from the end of normal time.

Conor Walsh's long-range shot was deflected into his path but the young winger dragged his shot agonisingly wide of the upright.

Glenavon were so nearly made to pay on 82 minutes when Andrew Morrow ran onto Paul McDowell's through ball and the striker's cool finish struck the inside of the post.

But in an end to end finish it was the home side who should have won it. First Nathan McConnell set up fell substitute Marty Haveron, but with the goal at his mercy, the young forward badly miscontrolled.

Then seconds later it was a role reversal as Haveron played in McConnell but he too couldn’t find the target from close range.

Both players again proceeded to miss chances in the first period of extra-time, before Glenavon were reduced to 10 men after Adrian Harper saw red for a reckless challenge.

To be fair to Glenavon, they never gave an inch after the sending off with McConnell going close again before Bangor almost snatched a winner in the final second through John Bailie who hit the outside of the post.

In the shoot-out, which took place in front of the Glenavon fans in the Crescent End, Marty Hunter, Barry Meehan and Paul Walsh all scored before Rice saved Irvine’s spot-kick.

Stephen Magennis was next up for the Lurgan Blues but the contest appeared to be back in the melting pot after his kick was stopped by goalkeeper Ryan Brown.

However, the celebrations then started in earnest as Rice first denied Jason Allen and then smashed home the winning penalty himself.