Glentoran 0, Bradford City 2 -The home team had two players with the same name, a billboard proclaimed “Jesus” in four foot letters behind the goal and a handful of golf balls were lobbed at the dug-out.
Welcome back to business, boys.
City’s pre-season cranked into gear last night at the Belfast Oval against Glentoran, the third best team in Northern Ireland.
After a fortnight of gut-busting exercising and training runs, not to mention three days of military manoeuvres at Catterick, this game couldn’t have come soon enough for the players, however low key.
The band of loyal travelling fans no doubt felt the same. And although the predictably rusty performance was no vintage spectacle, they went off to the bars of Belfast happy after witnessing only the second win away from Valley Parade since the balmy days of the Intertoto Cup.
On opening night, City fluffed a few lines and stumbled over the props occasionally but, as anyone will tell you, games like these are all about packing the match action into legs that no so long ago were sprawled out on exotic beaches. And in the end, they won comfortably.
City could have gone behind while the crowd were still discussing which of Glentoran’s Tim McCanns was which. The game was barely 15 seconds old when a blind backpass from Andy Myers found an unmarked Darren Fitzgerald inside the box.
Fitzgerald, who was top scorer for Rangers reserves for four years in a row before returning to Belfast last year, saw the pound signs. But not for the first time Gary Walsh spared Bantam blushes with a sharp block at his near post.
It was an immediate wake-up call and Ashley Ward promptly powered past centre-half Chris Walker, a hairier and uglier version of American Alexi Lalas, to fire in a shot which Alan Gough palmed away.
As the cobwebs began to blow clear, Gareth Whalley drove just wide and then in the 11th minute Ward headed Gary Locke’s left-wing corner against the bar. Robert Molenaar showed some neat footwork to retrieve the rebound and tee-up Robbie Blake who blasted over.
Claus Jorgensen was making a lively impression in centre midfield and came within inches of a 25th-minute goal after Jamie Lawrence flicked on a Blake cross.
Eight minutes before the break, a comedy moment threatened to undo City as Walsh collided with Gunnar Halle going for a loose ball in the corner of the box. It ran loose to Fitzgerald but Halle stretched out a leg and managed to flick clear.
Jim Jefferies promised to give everyone a run-out, barring the injuries and Matt Clarke, and City emerged for the second period with five changes.
On came Peter Atherton, for his first outing in claret and amber since February 3, and fellow prodigal son Lee Sharpe as well as Aidan Davison and trialists Michel Evans and Lee Makel.
And Makel arrived in explosive fashion by scoring within four minutes.
The former Hearts and Huddersfield midfielder boosted his chances of a contract by unleashing a fizzing half-volley 25 yards out which screamed past Gough’s right hand and into the corner of the Glentoran net.
Evans, who had laid the ball into his path, nearly joined him on the scoresheet after another sloppy backpass, this time from Michael Ferguson, but Gough smothered at his feet.
Glentoran switched things round with three substitutes, including Cameroon under-21 international Ramauld And-lla, but within two minutes City had made the game safe with another well-worked goal.
Sharpe wormed his way to the byline, Blake stepped over his cutback and Ward swept home from 12 yards to reward his busy night’s work.
Glentoran’s part-timers were starting to wilt but launched a rare counter as sub Martin Hunter, locally renowned for drinking out of his shoe at a team-mate’s wedding, crossed deep for Andella to head into the side-netting.
That was as close as they came but as the thin crowd became even thinner, City were still threatening to extend their advantage with the hungry Evans willing to chase everything.
Blake tested Gough three times in the space of three minutes and Ward fired well wide as City finished off in total command.
Glentoran: Gough, Nixon, Ferguson, Walker (Smyth 58mins), Leeman (Noble 75mins), Young (Hunter 58mins), Tim McCann 1 (Andella 58mins), Fitzgerald (McLoughlin 64mins), Armour (Halliday 64mins), Batey, Tim McCann 2.
City: Walsh (Davison 46mins), Halle (Atherton 46mins), Jacobs, Locke, Molenaar, Myers, Lawrence (Evans 46mins), Blake, Ward, Whalley (Sharpe 46mins), Jorgensen (Makel 46mins).