Glentoran looking upwards under the management of Gary Smyth
GLENTORAN have slipped a long way from being half of 'the Big Two' – except in one important area: support.
Manager Gary Smyth is setting short-term sights no higher than securing a top seven spot, and a place in the Europa League play-offs, but long-term the aim is for the 'Cock 'n' Hens' to give their faithful fans plenty to cheer about.
Attendance figures for the first half of the season showed that the Glens still attract the second largest crowds (after Linfield) despite their struggles on the pitch.
The Oval outfit are down in eighth but they have already turned a corner after the resignation of Ronnie McFall following their 4-2 home defeat by Dungannon Swifts on New Year's Day.
Smyth and his assistant, Paul 'Leeper' Leeman have already garnered seven points from their four League games in charge, losing only away to arch-rivals and leaders Linfield.
They did also lose their first match, a testing Irish Cup tie away to Crusaders, so a club famed for its Cup tradition truly has to 'concentrate on the League' for the rest of this campaign.
Today they travel to take on Warrenpoint Town, who are below them only on goal difference after 26 matches.
The Glens' last trip to the Q Radio Arena, on September 29, was a turning point of the wrong kind, a 1-1 draw against 10 men that could have ended in defeat, leading to a dreadful downward spiral.
After taking 14 points from their first seven league games, that result started a terrible run for the Glens, picking up just seven points – and only one win, against lowly Ards – from their next 15 matches in the competition.
Yet, despite those defeats to the Crues and the Blues, January was a positive month for Glentoran, on and off the pitch.
They recorded back-to-back league victories for only the second time this season, beating Institute and Newry City, and there was arguably an even better result, with the announcement that more than 90 per cent of the £1.7m historic debt that has dragged the club down in recent years will be paid off soon.
Smyth, at last, sees a brighter future for his beloved Glens, especially if they can battle their way into the Europa League:
"When they did get into Europe, under Eddie Patterson, there wasn't the money that there is now – you were lucky to break even after paying for flights and stuff on some occasions.
"We're going in the right direction, there's no doubt about it. You look at the clubs who have qualified for Europe in recent years; if they don't qualify this year, all of a sudden they could be in the same situation, because they're paying players high wages. If you don't qualify for Europe, the money is not there."
Glentoran's plan is to make sensible, affordable acquisitions, and Smyth has already brought in veteran centre half Gavin Peers, the physical presence of the versatile Lukasz Gwiazda, while striker Darren Murray joined in mid-December under McFall.
Unfortunately young defender/ midfielder Joe Crowe broke a metatarsal bone in training, but goalkeeper Elliott Morris may be able to return to action after back problems and forward Curtis Allen served a one-match ban in the 1-1 midweek draw at Newry..
Smyth is confident that his club can move upwards from now on, concluding: "With the debt being cleared, we can start strengthening. With our support, we're gonna have a wee bit of an advantage on a lot of clubs around us".