Cracking the vault: Five memorable Glentoran-Linfield matches

By Matt GaultBBC Sport NI
Glenn Ferguson celebrates after netting against Glentoran in 2008
Glenn Ferguson scored some important Big Two goals during his career at Windsor Park

The Big Two - or to afford it its dubious 'Bel Classico' moniker - is the Irish Premiership's biggie.

As Northern Ireland's two most decorated clubs, Linfield and Glentoran's rivalry is legendary.

With 229 trophies between them, they've been around the block and then some.

On Friday night, the two Belfast teams were due to meet in another hotly-anticipated league meeting.

Friday Night Football. Under the lights at the Oval. It was going to be great.

Of course, there are more much more important matters at hand than a football match, but in lieu of BBC Two NI's Friday Night Football programme, we wanted to deliver some form of Glentoran-Linfield content during these uncertain times.

With no football to look forward to in the foreseeable future, the footballing community finds itself looking back at the past, so we've cracked open the BBC Sport NI vault to remember five memorable modern era encounters between the sides.

Glentoran 3-3 Linfield (League, 26 December 2001)

A festive cracker played out in front of 12,000 fans at the Oval, Linfield surged into a 2-0 lead after 25 minutes thanks to Chris Morgan and Russell Kelly.

Determined to give a vocal home support something to shout about, though, the Glens fought back through Darren Armour and Michael Halliday.

New Glentoran signing Mark Wright, who had just arrived from Preston, slotted home a third to turn the game on its head.

While the Glens dreamed of a seasonal scalp over their rivals, Glenn Ferguson had other ideas. The legendary Blues hitman was given a belated Christmas present by Glentoran keeper Alan Gough, who mishandled an aerial ball and allowed 'Spike' to silence the home fans by making it 3-3.

The Big Two would meet in two finals that season, with Glentoran taking County Antrim Shield honours after Linfield's League Cup triumph.

Michael O'Neill battles with Noel Bailie during a Big Two game in 2003
Northern Ireland and Stoke manager Michael O'Neill helped Glentoran clinch the Irish League title in 2002/3

Glentoran 3-2 Linfield (League, October 2002)

This five-goal thriller had a bit of everything; a glorious comeback, meaty tackles, Kevin Keegan (no, not that one) and Michael O'Neill (yes, that one).

The Blues, then under David Jeffrey, stormed into a two-goal lead at the Oval thanks to goals from Stephen Collier and Ryan McCann.

Keegan's afternoon was ended early after a robust challenge from Lee Feeney, but that didn't deter the Glens as they roared back with Halliday, Andy Smith and future Northern Ireland manager O'Neill beating Linfield goalkeeper Alan Mannus to secure a thrilling comeback victory.

Remarkably, all five goals arrived during a thrill-a-minute first half.

Jeffrey made changes at the break, but he couldn't derail Glentoran's charge to victory. Nor could he derail their title ambitions as Roy Coyle's men finished top of the pile by 10 points.

Glentoran 1-2 Linfield (Irish Cup final, 6 May 2006)

In 2006, Linfield ruled the Irish League.

By the time the Irish Cup decider came around, Jeffrey's Blues had already won the league, League Cup and County Antrim Shield.

But the win that completed a clean sweep of domestic honours was arguably the sweetest, beating Glentoran in the Irish Cup decider at Windsor Park.

Glentoran - whose disappointing campaign included Coyle ending his nine-year stint at the helm in east Belfast in February - threatened to spoil the party when Halliday netted the opener after 44 minutes.

That lead didn't last long though as the Peter Thompson show began. First, he levelled in first-half injury time before heading in a 65th-minute winner.

There were unsavoury scenes when Linfield defender Jim Ervin was struck by a missile by a Glentoran supporter.

Ervin had the last laugh, however, as Linfield beat the Glens for the first time in an Irish Cup final since 1945 to cap a memorable season.

Glentoran battle back to beat Linfield in Europa play-off

Linfield 3-4 Glentoran (Europa League play-off semi-final, 10 May, 2018)

The 2017-18 season was an underwhelming one for Linfield and Glentoran, who finished fourth and seventh respectively in the league as Crusaders reigned supreme.

While Linfield's title defence faltered, Glentoran endured a dispiriting run which culminated in manager Gary Haveron's dismissal in February.

But Ronnie McFall stepped into the Oval dugout just in time for this late-season treat at Windsor.

Kurtis Byrne and Andrew Waterworth goals put Linfield firmly in the driving seat early in the second half before an extraordinary Glens resurgence.

Dylan Davidson's spot-kick gave the Glens hope before John McGuigan's rasping drive restored parity. Willie Garrett nodded McFall's side ahead before Curtis Allen - who was cleared to play after a successful appeal against a red card he picked up for an off-the-ball incident with Dungannon's Seanan Clucas - added the insurance goal.

Stephen Fallon struck a late consolation for Linfield, but the night ended in disappointment for David Healy as Glentoran booked a place in the decider against Cliftonville, which the Reds won 3-2 at Solitude.

Watch: Linfield deny fighting Glentoran

Linfield 4-2 Glentoran (League, 29 January, 2019)

Linfield shrugged off that disappointment and came back stronger than ever for the 2018-19 campaign, however, as they held off Ballymena United's spirited challenge to wrestle the Gibson Cup back from Crusaders.

And this thrilling winter win at Windsor sent out an ominous statement of intent.

Again, the Blues charged into a 2-0 lead, through Jordan Stewart and a Calum Birney own goal, but again Glentoran dusted themselves off to draw level, with Curtis Allen and Robbie McDaid on target.

But Linfield weren't to be denied, not this time, as Chris Casement and Michael O'Connor powered them to a 4-2 win to take them six points clear at the top of the table.

It was despair for Gary Smyth in his first - and ultimately last - derby game in charge of the Glens, but elation for Healy as Linfield took a huge step towards reclaiming the title.

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