Hello 2019! The New Year kicks off back in Northern Ireland with a couple of games in very familiar surroundings.
Game 30: Coleraine 4-1 Cliftonville (The Showgrounds, Coleraine – 1.1.2019)
If every game I see in 2019 is as good as this one, it’s going to be some year!
New Year’s Day football is one of the great traditions in this part of the world. While not quite having the same allure as the local derby fixtures traditionally scheduled for Boxing Day, it does still attract larger than normal crowds with people keen to escape the house or get some fresh air to recover from the previous night’s celebrations. Me? Well after missing out on the previous two games over the holidays, I just wanted to see some football.
Standing on the alas somewhat delapidated ‘Shed’ terrace along with some old friends, I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon as Coleraine put their opponents to the sword.
Two goals inside a minute in the first half set them on their way. The opener came when Josh Carson picked out Jamie McGonigle in acres of space on the right and he crossed for Eoin Bradley to tap in. Then when Cliftonville lost the ball straight after kicking off, Coleraine were able to walk through their defence and score again through Stephen Lowry.
Cliftonville did threaten a comeback in the second half, pulling a goal back when Joe Gormley teed the ball up for Liam Bagnall to find the bottom corner of the net.
But just as The Reds’ tails were up, Coleraine hit back and restored their two goal advantage. A corner was only half-cleared, Lowry knocked it back as far as Carson and his cross found Aaron Canning who curled the ball beyond Richard Brush for his first goal since returning to Coleraine in August.
The scoring was completed late on, another great ball forward from Carson put James McLaughlin, just on as a substitute, through, he took the ball round the advancing Brush and then cooly finished through the legs of the covering defender.
All in all, a great start to the new year.
Game 31: Coleraine 2-0 H&W Welders (The Showgrounds, Coleraine – 5.1.2019)
The Irish Cup was good to Coleraine last season. The 3-1 win over Cliftonville in the final in May brought a first major trophy in 15 years and it looks likely to be their best hope of silverware and an automatic route into European football again next summer. Not to mention another Irish Cup Final appearance being one of my Six Football Dreams for 2019!
Championship side H&W Welders were the opposition as Coleraine began their defence of the trophy and were expected to be reasonably awkward opponents. Boss Rodney McAree did make a number of changes to his starting line-up after the busy Christmas period and handed debuts to new signings Jamie Glackin and Ben Doherty.
Glackin didn’t enjoy the best of starts, taken off early on with concussion after a clash of heads and it was his replacement Alexander Gawne who helped bring about the opening goal, his shot being deflected past his own goalkeeper by Chris Morrow.
Although Coleraine continued to have the lion’s share of the chances, the game was always dangerously poised as long as it stayed 1-0. Scott Davidson’s strike from distance which struck the post and rebounded to safety was a reminder to Coleraine not to rest on their laurels.
But the game was made safe with a second goal shortly after the introduction of James McLaughlin. Just as on New Year’s Day, his first involvement brought about a goal, neatly lobbing Ryan Brown in the Welders’ goal.
McLaughlin will probably feel he has a bit of unfinished business with the cup. In 2017, he scored the late winner in the semi-final but then missed all of last season, including the triumphant cup run, with a knee injury. He more than anyone in the Coleraine squad will be desperate for another shot at glory.
And with that, I headed back to Spain. 2018/19 in Pictures will return soon, with a more continental flavour!