COLERAINE gave their European hopes a massive boost with a 4-1 win over fellow contenders Portadown at The Showgrounds.
Nothing less than a win would do if Oran Kearney’s men were to prolong their interest in the battle for Europe into the final week of the season and the players delivered a superb performance from start to finish, which their injury-riddled opponents simply couldn’t match.
Howard Beverland was restored to the team after a two-match suspension and created the first real opportunity of the game, teeing up Stephen Lowry who was unfortunate to see his shot deflected over the bar. Then Johnny Black took aim from distance with a free kick, the ball skipping up off the turf in the goalmouth and bobbling wide.
The breakthrough came as Curtis Allen raced away from Gary Breen and put in a great cross which Lowry forced in from close range. Lowry then almost doubled Coleraine’s lead as Aaron Boyd threaded the ball through to him, but the onrushing Tuda Murphy did enough to put him off as his shot went wide.
Against the run of play Portadown pulled level on 31 minutes. An unfortunate ricochet off David Ogilby in the penalty area saw the ball fall to Portadown’s top scorer Matthew Tipton who drilled the ball past Gavin Cullen from close range.
But Coleraine didn’t let the setback get to them and were in front again within five minutes. Lowry was again instrumental, driving forward from midfield and although his shot was blocked by a defender, it fell kindly for Aaron Boyd who steered the ball in for his fourth goal since he joined the club in the January window.
Richard Leckey threatened another equaliser for the visitors but headed over the bar, while Coleraine were denied a third when Tipton cleared Beverland towering header off the line from Ryan McIlmoyle’s corner. But Coleraine did get the third goal their first half performance deserved in first half stoppage time. Boyd carried the ball forward well and played it outside to McIlmoyle, whose perfectly-weighted cross was headed home by Allen.
Portadown briefly threatened a revival at the start of the second half, but solid Coleraine defending, in particular one challenge from Beverland which denied Tipton a shot, ensured their way to goal was blocked.
Coleraine looked to extend their lead and improve their goal difference in relation to their opponents’ and Black went close, stinging Murphy’s palms with a trademark shot from distance. Paul Owens was denied from close range as his shot was blocked on the line by Keith O’Hara, but the fourth goal finally came on 68 minutes.
It was the culmination of a fantastic move, which started with Beverland winning a tackle in his own penalty box and continued with neat interplay between Boyd and Owens, who laid the ball off to Allen, who provided the finishing touch for his 24th goal of the season.
Allen and sub Shane Jennings missed opportunities to add to the margin of victory late on, but Coleraine ultimately coasted over the line, meaning that they head into their final two games with their European destiny firmly in their own hands.
Team: Cullen, Beverland, McVey (Hegarty), Ogilby, Lowry (Scullion), Allen, Harkin, McIlmoyle, Boyd (Jennings), Owens, Black.
Unused Subs: McNulty, Bingham
Booked: Ogilby, Beverland.