Europa Conference League: Glens and Larne to secure last place

Larne have won two of the four league meetings between the sides this season, with the other two ending in draws
Venue: The Oval, Belfast Date: Friday May 13 To start up: 7:45 p.m. GMT
Cover: Watch live on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport NI website

At the start of the season, Glentoran and Larne saw securing European football as a minimum requirement.

That wasn’t the ultimate goal for two title-aspiring sides at the start of the 2021-22 campaign.

Yet, as hopes of competing for the Gibson Cup dwindled, it became clear that only European qualification could salvage what, by their own admission, has been a disappointing campaign for the clubs.

With that in mind, Friday’s Europa Conference League play-off final at The Oval has significance that goes far beyond the £200,000 minimum windfall awaiting the winner.

Claiming the final European spot will give the winners something to hang their hats on as they look to next season, while the losers will have to contend with a campaign in which even the minimum requirement has not been met.

Larne has enjoyed one-on-one best and has not lost to the Glens in any of the five meetings between the sides across league and cup competitions this season.

However, if they are to back last season’s first European qualifier, they must beat the Glens in their own backyard, as they did on New Year’s Day.

Glentoran, meanwhile, will be hoping to maximize the advantage he gained at home by finishing third at the end of a campaign that looked so promising until mid-February when he took a three-point lead at summit thanks to a 1-0 defeat of great rivals Linfield.

“No matter what happens, European football should be the bare minimum for either club and one of us won’t get it,” said Glens striker Conor McMenamin.

“When we started this year we said European football was the minimum, so we still have the chance to achieve that even if we obviously wanted to win the league title.

“Once we knew we had let the league title slip away, we knew it was about securing third place to get the home advantage in the play-offs, now we have understood that we have to do in so that matters.

“No matter what happens we will have to review. We were three points clear and the favorites to win and we let it go, so we all have to look at each other and look where we went wrong.

Larne's Dean Jarvis scores against Aarhus
Larne had some memorable moments during his first European campaign last summer

Last season, Larne beat Cliftonville in the play-off final to secure passage to Europe for the first time in their history.

What followed was a memorable run that included a home win against Danish side AGF Aarhus, but the Invermen could not replicate such performances during the league season.

“We have a very good team at Larne and obviously as a group we know ourselves that this year we have definitely underperformed,” admitted midfielder Lee Lynch.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about that as a group and we’re just trying to fix that by qualifying for Europe to make it a pretty decent season.”

Both sides qualified for the final with 2-0 semi-final wins, with McMenamin adding another goal to his personal tally as the Glens beat Glenavon in Belfast while Larne scored once in each half. time to beat Coleraine at Inver Park.

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