After dropped points against Institute and a League Cup exit to Ballyclare, Linfield looked to get their season back on track with a win against Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park, a ground they lost at last season.
Even before kick-off, the dropped points at Institute were already starting to bite. Ballymena’s defeat at Glenavon on Friday night meant Linfield would have went top with a win, had they won at Drumahoe last week.
With a game against Cliftonville coming up, and a free Saturday while others play, getting three points on the board, even at this early stage, was important.
It was Dungannon who had the best chance of the opening moments when Kris Lowe get clear from a long ball, forcing
Jonathan Tuffey into a double save. It was too easy, as Linfield were once again defensively suspect.
Like the other games this season, it showed that Linfield need another striker, with Warren Feeney playing up front in a 4-5-1, simply because, we don’t have 2 fit strikers.
Towards the end of the half, Linfield became on top, creating chances. Unlike in previous games where they had possessions and situations, Linfield had actual shots on goal, forcing Dungannon’s keeper into a string of saves.
Nothing world class though, but still enough to make their keeper worried. In some situations though, players were shooting from impossible angles.
Having complained previously about not shooting, it would be hypocritical to complain about players taking too many shots.
With the score at half-time 0-0, there was a danger this could go the way of Ballyclare. The first goal was going to be vital in this game.
We didn’t have to wait long for the first goal, and thankfully, it went to Linfield, as a Matthew Clarke cross fell to Ivan Sproule, who fired home, just 55 seconds into the half.
Within a minute, it was almost 2-0, as Ivan Sproule’s run resulted in the ball falling to Kirk Millar, who was unable to fire home.
Despite this, Dungannon were still in the game and had chances to equalise. Linfield’s fragility in defence means that you are always worried that the opposition might get one, especially with Josh Cahoon’s late equaliser in a game Linfield dominated in October 2012 still a recent memory.
Linfield’s defence gives opposition hope. When you have a good defensive record, it can suck the life out of opponents, meaning that if you are 1-0 up after 75 minutes, they can feel the game is up. Linfield’s defending gives opposition hope of a late goal.
Most frustrating was distribution of possession when in defence, winning second balls, but losing the ball on the ground.
There was a late scare as a long ball into the box saw Jonathan Tuffey run out and collide with a Dungannon player. I was at the other end and haven’t seen a TV replay, but a lot of the fans where I was feared the worst.
You don’t want a keeper who stays on his line, but you’ve got to pick your battles. Like Institute’s goal last week, this was one ball he never had a chance of getting.
Michael Carvill, disappointing on Monday (as the most senior, in terms of Irish League experience, player on the pitch) came on for a sub and was Linfield’s main attacking threat as the game became stretched with Dungannon going for an equaliser, creating opprtunities for others, including fellow sub Andrew Waterworth, thankfully returning to fitness.
Thankfully, the lack of a second goal didn’t come back to haunt Linfield, as they moved level with Ballymena in second, one point behind new leaders Cliftonville.
Tuesday’s game is massive, not just in terms of points, but in making a statement of intent. Too many times in recent years, Linfield have not shown up at Solitude.
The importance is increased due to not having a game next Saturday while others are playing, before welcoming Warrenpoint Town to Windsor Park on September 13th.
I enjoy away games, and travelling to away games, but i’ve missed the burgery aroma of Windsor Park. I’m looking forward to seeing the redevelopment in person, not just in two weeks time, but over the next two years.
Hopefully, we’ll have three more points in the bag by then.