Preview: Europa League Play Off Final: Ballymena United v Glenavon

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Glenavon travel to the Ballymena Showgrounds tomorrow evening for their last, and arguably most important game of the 2016/17 season as they battle it out with Ballymena United in the Play Off Final for that coveted and lucrative Europa League spot (Kick off 7.45pm).

NO TICKETS REQUIRED

Speaking on Thursday evening ahead of the game Manager Gary Hamilton advised that Simon Kelly, Guy Bates and David Elebert were definitely ruled out of the game. “Guy’s knee still isn’t right. We knew if we played Simon Kelly it would finish his chances of playing on Friday but we needed him to give us the best chance of reaching the Final and obviously it did work for us”.  Gary advised that David Elebert had been struggling with some sort of viral infection and having completed training on Saturday has again been unwell. Chris Turner also remains a doubt for the game after coming off at Solitude three weeks ago with a tight hamstring.

Simon Kelly misses tomorrow’s game through injury. Pic: Maynard Collins

When discussing the impact fans have had previously Gary commented, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the other night in the second half we felt it, when you hear them, that helps the players on the pitch, some people need that and some people like that and it gives them the extra motivation they need. I’ve said all along that in any of the big performances we’ve had in my time as Manager that the supporters have driven the team to it. The semi finals, the European decider against Portadown, the two Finals – the supporters have played a huge part. They were a credit to themselves when we needed them the other night against Cliftonville and hopefully we can hear them from start to finish again against Ballymena tomorrow”.

So, for one last time this season let’s get out in numbers tomorrow evening and get behind the players from the very first to the very last minute.  #GHBAWA

Important information for spectators

As a result of an incident at Monday night’s game at Solitude the club understands there will be thorough searching of spectators entering the ground. You are reminded that possession of fireworks/flares etc is a specific offence under the Criminal Justice Act 2011 in relation to football matches. Anyone found to be in possession of such items will be denied access to the ground and handed over to the PSNI. Anyone identified as throwing such a device within the ground will be also be handed over to the PSNI and ejected from the ground. Moreover, the club would be likely to face consequential IFA sanctions. We urge all fans to be vocal and passionate on Friday night but do nothing to tarnish the good name of Glenavon Football Club.

Finally, in planning their journey to the game supporters are reminded of the probability of heavy traffic in the Ballymena area as a result of spectators heading to the North Coast for the NW200.

Preview: Europa League Play-off Semifinal

Monday night’s play-off semi-final against Cliftonville at Solitude (kick off 7:45pm) is undoubtedly the biggest game of the season so far for Glenavon. Following the disappointment of losing to Coleraine in the Irish Cup semi-final, it’s a chance to make the final next Friday night, against either Ballymena Utd. or Dungannon Swifts, with a vital place in next season’s Europa League at stake.

“The fans have a massive role to play on Monday night,” Gary Hamilton feels. “It’s a semi-final and you want as much support there as possible, you want the fans to be positive and back the boys as they have done all year. This season, so far, we’ve let the fans down a little bit but, on Monday night, we want to try our best to make them happy and get them into the final. Our aim at the start of these is to achieve European qualification and hopefully, with their backing and their support like they gave us in the semifinals and finals of the two Irish cup wins and the game against Portadown when Andy McGrory scored the penalty to clinch European qualification, their support that day was magnificent, the boys will buzz off that and hopefully get them a result.”

Aaron Canning has back problems that are exacerbated by playing on plastic pitches so he’s not likely to feature on Monday.  In better news, Caolan Marron, who limped off with an ankle injury in the final league game at Seaview, has managed to train on Thursday night and Saturday morning. “Guy Bates hasn’t been able to play or train since he hurt his knee against Cliftonville in the league game so he could be a doubt and Chris Turner probably won’t make this game but there’s an outside chance he could be fit for the final if we were to make that but he looks a major doubt for both games. The rest of the players should be all available with a bit of luck,” Gary told us. “It was important to get the game on Tuesday night to get boys games who hadn’t had games for a while and we had good training sessions on Thursday night and Saturday morning and hopefully we can bring that into the game on Monday night and get a positive result.”

“It’s a semi-final on Monday night and whoever turns up, whoever is braver, will win the game. We’ve let ourselves down in two semi-finals this season and we don’t want to let ourselves down in the third one.”

No tickets are required so let’s see a huge Glenavon support at Solitude on Monday night to get behind the team and cheer them on to victory. #GHBAWA

Preview: Crusaders v Glenavon

Supporter Information: For today’s game Glenavon supporters will be accommodated in the Shore Road stand and should enter via the Shore Road turnstiles.

Gary Hamilton’s team selection for the final league game of the season at Seaview against Crusaders tomorrow is once again restricted by injuries, suspensions and potential bans. Rhys Marshall is available after completing a two-game ban but Simon Kelly and Andrew Doyle are both banned for this game having picked up their 5th cautions recently. Chris Turner is out with hamstring strain but Aaron Canning (back) and Joel Cooper (calf) should be available for selection.

“We’ll put out the strongest team we can bearing in mind who’s available and as we try to give the players as many minutes as possible on the pitch in preparation for the playoffs,” Gary told us. “Aaron has had back problems which recurred against Linfield and the 4G pitch could put extra strain on him so he may have limited minutes tomorrow.”

Gary himself has been absent from the playing squad since picking up a stress fracture of the back while playing in the Reserves. “That’s frustrating for me as, ironically, I was playing to get fit for the play-offs but I won’t be able to play again this season.”

Kyle Neill

‘That goal’ hits the back of the net. Photo by Alan Weir

What a servant Kyle Neill has been, not just to Glenavon Football Club, but to Irish League football in general. And who will ever forget that goal ‘Kyler’ scored in the 2014 Irish Cup Final that saw Glenavon win the coveted trophy for the first time since 1997?

Kyle Neill is carried off after picking up a suspected cartilage injury to his left knee. Photo by Alan Weir

Last week at Solitude Kyle was arguably the best player on the pitch, belying the fact that he’s 39 years old and has had to fight his way back to fitness after an operation to repair a serious knee ligament injury he picked up on Boxing Day 2015.

If he starts tomorrow’s game it will be his 198th start for the Lurgan Blues and, with 30 substitute appearances and 24 goals and who knows how many assists to his credit, he’ll be a hard act to follow.

“We’ve had a chat and Kyle told me he feels this is going to be his last year at this level. He said he’d like to stay on but he’s a realist and, while you never ever rule anything out in life, in his opinion this is his last year and tomorrow could possibly be his last league game,” Gary explained. “He’s had a wonderful career and an unbelievable time at Glenavon. He’s been there since I started until now; he’s played a part in one Irish Cup success and getting to Europe a couple of times. He’s been a big player for the club and unfortunately for him he got the cruciate injury when he was on a good run of form which set him back for the start of this season and then he picked up a few wee niggles this year which sometimes happens when you’re coming back from serious injury.

“Obviously he’s a close friend of mine but regardless of that and never mind his ability and everything else that he had, he was somebody you could rely on and somebody who, once he crossed that white line, gave whatever club he played for everything he had.

“I thought last Saturday just typified him; he came in for Joel, not having played for a long, long time, on a 3G pitch which he obviously doesn’t like playing on, and to put in the shift and the performance that he did, just spoke volumes about the type of person and the type of player he’s been whichever Club he’s played for.”

The last time Glenavon won at Seaview was in October 2014 when Gary’s side ran out 4-1 winners. The key to that win was swift counter-attacking football by Glenavon and that may be a feature tomorrow as Crusaders must go all-out for the win to have any hope of retaining their League title for a third consecutive season.

Match Officials

Referee Assistant 1 Assistant 2 4th Official
Andrew Davey  George Argyropoulos  Ken Ross  Steven Gregg 

 

Preview: Cliftonville v Glenavon

Glenavon finishes the league campaign with the second of three trips to Belfast. Last Tuesday night saw the Lurgan Blues lose 3-0 to Linfield at Windsor Park and tomorrow it’s off to Solitude with the campaign finishing against the Champions at Seaview next Saturday.

Chris Turner is recovered from the injury he picked up in the 3-0 win against Ballymena United. Photo by Maynard Collins

Rhys Marshall completes his two game ban tomorrow but Gary Hamilton’s selection choices are still limited by injuries and potential bans for Mark Sykes and David Elebert who are both on 9 cautions and Ciaran Martyn who is on four cautions so a further booking for any of those three would rule them out of the play-off games. “On Tuesday night I literally only had 16 players available to me,” Gary explained. “Simon Kelly and Kris Lindsay were both injured from Saturday, Kyle Neill was at his brother’s wedding and I couldn’t risk the boys who are one booking away from a suspension.

“Obviously I was disappointed with the result the other night but for 20 minutes we were well in it and, looking back at the highlights, we should have had a penalty, the decision didn’t go our way, then we conceded a goal from a mistake which was so uncharacteristic of James. That gave Linfield the momentum and confidence that they needed and then we made another mistake a couple of minutes later and it’s 2-0 and unfortunately our heads went down.

“We played the players we had available but unfortunately it didn’t work out but the other night does show the importance of those players who are running the risk of suspension and injury and how much they’re needed. The last thing we can do is risk putting all these players out of the two important (play-off) games. I share the fans’ frustrations in terms of the result but unfortunately we’re at the stage of the season when there’s nothing we can do about it and needs must at the end of the day in terms of what we’re doing and trying to do.”

Aaron Canning and Joel Cooper join the injury list, the latter as a result of a poor challenge by Paul Smyth that somehow wasn’t punished by a red card on Tuesday night. There is some good news though with Simon Kelly and Chris Turner back from injury.

Glenavon and Cliftonville have met four times so far this season, three times in the league and once in the quarter final of the League Cup. Glenavon have the slight advantage with two wins and a draw; the one defeat was the only one of those four games at Solitude.

Supporters are reminded to check the important advice published yesterday.

Easter Double Bill

Saturday’s trip to 3rd-placed Coleraine is the first of a tough Easter double-bill of away games for Glenavon, with Gary Hamilton’s side also taking on the team in second spot, Linfield, at Windsor Park on Easter Tuesday (7:45pm kick off).

Tomorrow’s opponents have opened up a 5 point lead on their nearest rivals for that coveted 3rd place and, of course, also have an Irish Cup final with Linfield to look forward to, having overcome holders Glenavon in the semifinal. In many ways the Bannsiders situation mirrors that of Glenavon last season when the Lurgan Blues secured third place and also went on to defeat Linfield in the cup final.

Gary Hamilton’s thoughts are focused on preparing his squad for the European play-offs which are his side’s only remaining route to Europe for next season.

“The players that started last week were the ones that needed games so it’ll be a similar line-up tomorrow, especially with the result. Chris Turner will be missing as he has a tight hamstring that forced him off last week, and we don’t want to take any risks with him. The main importance for us is the play-off semifinal so we have to make sure they’re right for that. Ciaran Martyn comes back into contention there and Renato will come onto the bench and Doyler (Andrew Doyle) will be back in the squad.

“We have to be careful with suspensions as Mark Sykes and Dave Elebert are on 9 bookings so we have to manage that as we don’t want to lose them for the play-offs.”

Along with Coleraine, Tuesday’s opponents Linfield are the top two teams as far as form is concerned and last weekend’s win for David Healy’s side over Crusaders has narrowed the gap to the leaders to just a single point. It goes without saying that he will be going all-out for a win against Glenavon to keep the pressure on the league leaders.

“These are the games you want to be playing in at this stage of the season as players. They’re big games, unfortunately not for us this season, but for the opposition. There’ll be a decent crowd at both games and a decent atmosphere as well and a chance for the players to show their quality, which they did last week. We don’t want to be pushovers for anybody; we want to go out and get results, no matter who you play, and that’s what our aim is.”

Rhys Marshall starts a two-game suspension from Monday so he is unavailable for the Linfield game after picking up his 10th booking of the season against Ballymena last weekend. Teenage striker Jordan Jenkins who scored two goals last Saturday on his first full start will be looking forward to having a run in the first team after that impressive performance against the Sky Blues.

“He was exceptional and I was really, really pleased with him; he’s a finisher and its up to him what level he wants to play at. That’s two games now at our level and he’s scored goals in both. He’s proved that his desire and attitude is right and he can play at this level. Whatever level he finds himself at, Jordan Jenkins will score goals. He just reminded me so much of Mark Farren,” Gary concluded. High praise indeed!

Rhys Marshall celebrates with Jordan Jenkins after the teenager opened the scoring against Ballymena United. Photo by Brian Bain.