Tactical masterclass earns Coleraine points at Larne

Fifth win in a row sees Oran Kearney's men jump up to fourth place in Danske Bank Premiership table

Tactical masterclass earns Coleraine points at Larne

James McLaughlin.

By Damian Mullan

Reporter:

By Damian Mullan

Email:

sport@thechronicle.uk.com

WELL, that was an interesting night in the Danske Bank Premiership.

A night when the top three teams in the league all failed to win.

Linfield lost at Cliftonville, Crusaders could only draw at Portadown while, at Inver Park, Larne went down to just their second league defeat of the season, beaten 2-1 by Coleraine.

What a performance this was from the Bannsiders, the in-form team in the DBP at present, racking up a fifth consecutive win as they continue to move up the league table.

Manager Oran Kearney made two changes to his starting line-up, mindful of another big game to come this weekend, at home to Crusaders, resting 37-year-old striker Eoin Bradley and midfielder Josh Carson, making his way back from injury.

That paved the way for Aaron Canning to return in defence and James McLaughlin to assume the lead striker's role and both were to play key roles in their side's victory.

It was obvious from how the visitors lined up that Oran and his coaching staff had given this game plenty of thought, Canning forming a very effective three man central defensive unit alongside skipper Stephen O'Donnell and Gareth McConaghie.

Full-backs Lyndon Kane and Aaron Traynor pushed a little bit higher along the flanks, Kane nullifying the threat of Ronan Hale on one side and Traynor preventing Tomas Cosgrove from bombing forward as he often does on the other.

Inside them, Stephen Lowry was his usual composed self, aided by Aaron Jarvis, while the front three of McLaughlin, Glackin and Nixon worked their socks off in attack and defence.

The end result was a night largely of frustration for Tiernan Lynch's full-timers who enjoyed plenty of possession but found the way to goal difficult against committed opponents.

Their cause wasn't helped by conceding twice inside the opening quarter.

The game was barely six minutes old when Kane, in that advanced role, showed how much of a threat he can be going forward when he was bundled over inside the box by Ronan Hale, back defending inside his own penalty area.

Referee Shane Andrews paused briefly before deciding to award the spot-kick which Stephen Lowry, in the absence of regular penalty-taker, the injured Ben Doherty, blasted past Conor Devlin despite a valiant attempt to keep the ball out.

Things went from bad to worse for the home side minutes later when James McLaughlin doubled Coleraine's advantage. Stewart Nixon, a constant thorn in the Larne defence, dispossessed Albert Watson near the halfway line and quickly transferred the ball to McLaughlin.

The big striker still had plenty to do as he bore down on goal, one on one with Devlin, but McLaughlin's finishing ability is never in question and he calmly rolled the ball through the keeper's legs to score.

Larne rang the changes at half-time, introducing Jeff Hughes and Jonathan McMurray for Andrew Mitchell and Mark Randall, and McMurray's introduction in particular, appeared to provide Larne with a greater attacking threat.

McMurray tested Gareth Deane from distance 15 minutes from full-time and forced an even better save from the Coleraine keeper five minutes later, the former Linfield man stretching low to his left to divert the ball around the post.

From the resulting corner, Albert Watson rose highest to head home from close range, one of the few times Coleraine had been found wanting from a set piece in their own penalty area.

The goal prompted immediate activity on the Coleraine bench. Oran Kearney turned to two of his most trusted lieutenants, Bradley and Carson, introducing them for the closing minutes at the expense of Jarvis and goalscorer McLaughlin.

Still, there was time for Larne to level matters, and that man McMurray again came closet when his speculative lob bounced off the top of the crossbar.

Into two minutes of added time and the hosts believed they should have been awarded a penalty as Coleraine desperately cleared their lines.

However, referee Andrews remained unmoved.

He allowed play to continue and seconds later blew the final whistle, bringing an end to an engrossing game between two evenly matched teams.

This was a tactical masterclass from Oran Kearney and a clinical display from a group of well drilled and disciplined players.

They took their chances when they came and fought tigerishly as a unit to defend that lead, Nixon, McLaughlin and Glackin typifying the phrase 'defending from the front.'

In the end they thoroughly deserved the three points. Not all wins are the result of free-flowing football. Sometimes, they come about as the result of having a plan and working damned hard to see it through.

Tuesday night was one of those games and, boy, did it feel good.

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