LINFIELD 4-0 BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 16.9.2017

Five wins from their opening five games didn’t automatically mean that Linfield would be Champions. By the same analysis, defeat at Seaview on Tuesday didn’t mean that Linfield’s title hopes were over.

Despite that, Ballinamallard’s visit to Windsor Park today was a game they had to win. Firstly, to avoid Tuesday’s result being considered the start of a slump rather than a blip, and most importantly, to keep up with the sides at the top of the League, especially with Coleraine, Crusaders and Glenavon all having home games they were expected to win.

Linfield fans arriving at Windsor Park today won’t be returning there for a Linfield match until 21st October due to a run of six successive away matches, including a first League meeting of the season with Coleraine.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of early Linfield pressure, it was Attack v Defence, and Linfield were doing all the attacking.

Louis Rooney dispossessed a defender and cut in, only to have his shot saved by Ballinamallard’s keeper. Chris Casement had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart curled a shot wide. It looked like a matter of time before Linfield scored.

On twelve minutes, Windsor Park got a shock. Not a Ballinamallard goal, but a player being booked in the first fifteen minutes of a game, as Neil Brennan was booked for a cynical foul on Jamie Mulgrew. Apparantly, referees are allowed to do that. Let’s hope it becomes a regular thing when teams try to cyncially foul in the opening minutes of a game.

Ballinamallard did have a chance when a free-kick from a wide angle at the edge of the box which was easily saved by Roy Carroll. That was all they offered in the first-half.

It was then Aaron Burns turn to be frustrated as he dragged his shot wide after being played through.

Burns made up for it soon after by playing in Jordan Stewart, whose shot went through the keeper’s legs to put Linfield 1-0 up.

It wasn’t as lucrative as is last goal against La Fiorita, but it felt just as important, giving Linfield the breakthrough against opposition designed to frustrate.

The pressure from Linfield continued, with Mark Haughey and Louis Rooney missing from close range immei=diately after each other, when one of them should have scored.

As the half neared it’s end, it looked like Linfield were going to get an opportunity to get that second goal they needed when Aaron Burns was brought down, but no penalty was given. It may have only been a slight touch, but it was still a foul. It was the second week in a row Burns had been denied a clear penalty.

With the game still in the balance, Ballinamallard came out and felt confident of getting a point. In the early minutes of the second-half, Ryan Curran got clear of a defender but his shot was saved by Carroll.

Ballinamallard even started doing fancy flicks as they looked for an equaliser. Linfield knew if they got the second goal, that would be the points. While the game was in the balance, Ballinamallard always felt they would get something.

Josh Robinson was lucky to only get a yellow for a foul as a Ballinamallard player raced to goal. The fact the foul was on the halfway line worked in his favour.

Just after the hour, Jordan Stewart put an end to the tension by converting a cross to make it 2-0 and secure the points.

A few minutes later, he was played through and made it 3-0, completing his hat-trick.

With the game won, David Healy turned to his bench, giving gametime to Brandon Adams and Ryan Strain.

Neither of them could get on the scoresheet, but Mark Haughey did, heading home from close range to make it 4-0.

One pointless observation from this match was that this was the first League game that Linfield didn’t do a “Tottenham Corner”.

As mentioned earlier, Windsor Park will be a foreign country to Linfield fans over the next few weeks due to six successive away games coming up.

The first of those is a County Antrim Shield game against Ballyclare on Tuesday before a League trip to Warrenpoint on Friday.

Playing on Friday allows Linfield the opportunity to put pressure on Coleraine ahead of their match on Saturday.

A 2 goal win will put Linfield top while a 4-3 win will have both sides level with identical goals for and goal difference.

After that, a trip to Solitude. Linfield might do mid 90s Tottenham corners, but Cliftonville do mid 90s Tottenham disregard for defending.

I’d be very confident that our eight man midfield can cut off the supply to their four man attack.

Elsewhere today, Coleraine and Glenavon unsurprisingly won, while Crusaders could only draw at home to Ards.

That results lessens the damage of Tuesday’s result, only slightly, as we’ve only lost one point (across two games) this week to Crusaders instead of three.

Next weekend, Coleraine travel to The Oval, while Crusaders do so the following Monday (It’s like on Sky Sports).

Glentoran’s (relatively) good start to the season could be beneficial to Linfield, as they could help derail Linfield’s rivals. Obviously, i’m hoping for draws. Come on, you don’t seriously think i’ll want them to win?

I’m not going to Warrenpoint next Friday as i’m going to Culture Night instead. I missed it last year and I don’t want to miss it two years in a row. We’re at Warrenpoint in January, so I won’t be missing out.

I’ll have my lucky scarf in my right hand pocket as per superstition.

I’m hoping to travel to Tannadice for the match against Dundee United but it’s looking unlikely due to the prices of flights out of Glasgow on the Sunday night.

It’s a pity, as I wanted to see the DC Thomson statues in the City Centre (I always get DC Comics and DC Thompson mixed up. Now that would be a comic book crossover I could get into) as well as seeing Tannadice and Den’s Park so close together in the flesh.

That game allows Linfield the opportunity to play at a ground that has hosted a European Final. However, come Wednesday, Linfield could be playing home matches at a ground which is set to host a European Final.

Windsor Park has applied to host the European Super Cup Final in August 2019. The host venue will be confirmed on Wednesday.

UEFA have published a report of the proposed venues on their website. You can find it here. Skip to page 58.

In short, the report for Windsor Park states :

The IFA proposes a smoke free stadium (Ha ha ha. I’ll believe that when I see it. Trust me, i’d love it, but recent internationals make me cynical)

No free transport from City Centre to Windsor Park for fans

More than the required amount of wheelchair spaces needed.

It meets UEFA’s requirement for supporter-toilet ratio. Yes, such a thing exists.

Food facilities for matchday staff is small.

Any VIP area for May McFetridge and Julian Simmons to hang out with Ruud Gullit and Lothar Mattheus would have to be built outside the ground.

Not enough space for TV studios.

Somebody will have to “have a word” regarding lifting restrictions on late night flights after the game.

Number of hotels for fans and teams are adequate.

Belfast is a “Straightforward city”. UEFA’s words, not mine. I’ve no idea what that means.

Anyway, forget about 2019, let’s just concentrating on racking up points prior to the visit to Coleraine on October 14th, especially being three points behind and not playing in the League on October 7th while Coleraine are in action.

We’ll need every point we can get between now and then.

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MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SMASH HITS – 14.2.1985

The new Duran Duran? asks Smash Hits of their cover stars The Power Station. You may recognise a few Duran Duran faces in the band.

As you open the magazine, there is a poster of Paul King, the lead singer of the band King.

Smash Hits has noticed a recent trend in recent weeks, of stars such as Andrew Ridgeley, Boy George, Steve Strange and Eurythmics all wearing tartan.

Pat Benatar is interviewed as she enters the final weeks of pregnancy.

In Reviews, new singles by Cliff Richard, The Smiths, The Stranglers, Mick Jagger and Kim Carnes are all reviewed.

Phil Collins is interviewed, where he reveals that John Taylor from Duran Duran is a fan of Genesis.

Cover stars The Power Station get a three page feature.

Wham! have recently toured Asia, and Smash Hits covers this with a two page photo feature.

Mick Jagger gets profiled as he gets set to release his debut solo album at the age of 44, lying in bed in a hotel room when Smash Hits came to visit.

Terry Hall gets interviewed as he launches his third band (after The Specials and Fun Boy Three) The Colourfield, with the headline OLD MISERY GUTS IS BACK.

Concert Reviews sees Smash Hits go to see New Order and Chaka Khan in action.

CRUSADERS 2-1 LINFIELD 12.9.2017

Football has a strange way of repeating itself. In 2015, Linfield arrived at Seaview with a perfect record (six wins out of six) and a lead over Crusaders, knowing that a win would open up a gap between them at the top of the League.

In 2017, the same thing happened, although this time, it was five wins out of five for Linfield.

In 2015, Linfield lost that day. They recovered quite well after that, winning their next two matches, scoring nine goals in the process, but it was one of three defeats to Crusaders that cost them the title.

The following season, roles were reversed, with Linfield won the head to heads and the title.

Recent form suggests that whoever wins the head to heads between these two wins the title. However, this season, there’s a third party wanting to muscle in on the title race, with Coleraine looking down on everybody after winning all six of their opening games.

It wasn’t about getting an advantage over the other, Crusaders wanted to keep in touch with Coleraine while Linfield wanted to draw level with them. Linfield knew that a win would open up a six point lead over Crusaders, even at this early stage.

If things had worked out differently over the Summer, Linfield could have been lining up against PSG instead.

There was a change in personnel and formation for Linfield with 451 becoming 442 but not completely more attacking, as Jordan Stewart was sacrificed for Matthew Clarke, while Louis Rooney came in for Kirk Millar.

There seems to be an unwritten rule in Irish League football that players are immune from getting booked in the first fifteen minutes, a rule that Crusaders players were willing to exploit with a series of cynical and tactical fouls with the only cost being a free-kick.

It was no coincidence that the first yellow card came after sixteen minutes, when Louis Rooney was dragged down as he went down the right wing.

Jordan Forsythe and Aaron Burns both fired over in the early minutes as they looked to score spectacularly, an overhead kick and a chip respectively.

Despite the more defensive nature of the starting eleven, Andrew Mitchell and Jamie Mulgrew were making Linfield tick, running at Crusaders defence, both of whom fired wide as Linfield looked to get the breakthrough.

On 25 minutes, Crusaders took the lead when Jordan Forsythe fired home.

On 32 minutes, Crusaders made it 2-0 when a header upfield allowed Paul Heatley to fire home from outside the box.

As good as the finish was, it was a poor goal to concede, route one assist.

Linfield fans were hoping for half-time as Crusaders looked to make it 3-0, with Jordan Owens and Rodney Brown both having chances to do just that.

It was a big half-time talk in the away dressing room but all hope wasn’t lost. You never write off Linfield when they attack their fans. An early goal, and it was game on.

Getting that early goal, as each minute passed, a Linfield comeback was looking less likely.

They were helped by the fact that Crusaders were stepping back, happy to hold what they had.

Linfield’s search for a goal saw Kirk Millar and Brandon Adams introduced from the bench. The most obvious introduction, Jordan Stewart, was made to wait.

With twenty minutes to go, Paul “Not that kind of player” Heatley went in recklessly on Aaron Burns on the halfway line. He knew what he was doing, and he wasn’t going for the ball. The referee bottled it and only showed a yellow card. That’s twice in successive seasons referees have let him away with it.

Within minutes, Linfield pulled a goal back when Aaron Burns crossed for Mark Stafford to put the ball into the empty net.

If there was any justice, Linfield’s search for an equaliser would have been against ten men.

For all there pressure, Linfield couldn’t get an equaliser, as Crusaders held out for the win.

It was a silly spell midway through the second-half that did it, Linfield gave themselves too much to do.

In truth, the performance wasn’t good enough, just like on Saturday. A wake up call. It’s never too early for one.

A sense of perspective is needed though, it was Linfield’s first domestic defeat in eight months. Not only that, Linfield have three more points this season than they did after six games last season.

The next two games against Ballinamallard and Warrenpoint represent an opportunity to amass six points and keep the pressure on at the top.

We’ll need those points with a run of games against Cliftonville, Coleraine and Crusaders to come, as well as a rearranged game against Glenavon to fit in as well.

Talking of rearranged games, the League Cup match against Ballinamallard has been brought forward a week. No idea why, and the away match against Ballymena has been brought forward to the Friday night.

It’ll be some fun if Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off (providing the next two matchdays don’t go wrong) at home is that night. Expect another rearrangement, although, this is Irish League football, don’t expect logic to be followed.

Anyway, that Ballymena game will be postponed because we’ll be playing in the Quarter-Final of the Scottish Challenge Cup. Got to be optimistic.

Up next, Ballinmallard, the first of two meetings in two and a half weeks. The second game, away from home, will be sandwiched inbetween away games against Cliftonville and Dundee United.

It says something that the trip to Cliftonville will be the hardest to get to of those three.

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LINFIELD 1-0 GLENTORAN 9.9.2017

There was a throwback to the old days on Saturday as Linfield and Glentoran met, separated only by a point and both unbeaten, with Glentoran knowing that a win would send them above Linfield in the table for the first time since the opening day of the 2014-2015 season.

It was to be a case of the same old, as it was the player who scored the winner the last time Linfield trailed Glentoran in the table did it again on Saturday, to put Linfield four points clear of their rivals, and more importantly, maintain their winning start to the season and keep the pressure on leaders Coleraine.

Early Linfield pressure brought that winning goal when Glentoran couldn’t properly clear a corner and the ball went out the left to Jordan Stewart. Stewart was booed by the away fans every time he touched the ball. However, that booing went silent within seconds when his cross was headed home by Aaron Burns.

It looked like it was going to be a rout for Linfield. Even at this early stage.

Glentoran soon reminded them that there was still a game to be won when Robbie McDaid was played through only for his shot to be saved by Roy Carroll, who got up in time to save Curtis Allen’s rebound. Between Allen and mcDaid, it should have been a goal for Glentoran.

Soon after, Aaron Burns had a chance for Linfield but his shot was saved by Elliott Morris. He couldn’t get enough space to get a clear shot at goal. He would have been better off blindly shooting towards goal when he had the position but not the space.

Burns was involved in Linfield’s next attack of note when Marcus Kane made a great interception in the penalty ares to deny him. That is, if you were playing Basketball. The clearest handball you’ll ever see, and no penalty was given.

Inbetween, Glentoran almost equalised in bizarre fashion when a headed clearance hit Robbie McDaid and went goalwards, only for Roy Carroll to save on the line. When Roy Coyle was Glentoran manager, you can be sure that would have went into the back of the net.

Linfield made a strong start to the second-half but could get a clinching goal, and began to give Glentoran far too much encouragement, with a James Knowles free-kick causing enough concern for Roy Carroll to tip the ball out for a corner.

As Linfield sought that second goal, Louis Rooney came on from the bench in place for Jordan Stewart. It was a surprise for Rooney to start on the bench considering he had scored four goals in one start and one sub appearance and had a lot of early momentum at the start of his Linfield careers.

Linfield were given another moment of worry when a cross come shot had to be cleared off the line.

Ross Clarke was brought on for Kirk Millar, his first League appearance of the season. His main moment of note in Glentoran’s half was keepball at a corner with Aaron Burns. That sort of tactic against Glentoran has bitten us in the arse before. I was sat waiting for the 93rd minute Glentoran equaliser.

Despite all of Glentoran’s possession, Linfield were able to hold out and do just enough to win.

While 451/433 does have it’s advantages, it has one obvious limitation in the shape of stifling attacks.

It may have been a necessity due to injuries a few weeks ago, but two strikers have since been signed, one of whom has gotten off to a goalscoring start.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to get used to it until we have a bad result or an injury crisis in midfield.

In the Scottish Challenge Cup, we’ve been drawn away to Dundee United. Games against Dundee United and Celtic mean this has been a memorable season for those Linfield supporters doing the 102 Club.

I’m hoping to go to Dundee, just to see Tannadice and Den’s Park so close together in the flesh. I would have preferred Stranraer for obvious reasons.

Up next, a trip to Seaview, and a big improvement needed. A 2-0 sends us top. 6-5 puts us joint top with an identical record to Coleraine. A win by any score will do.

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RYAN ADAMS – LIVE AT ULSTER HALL 8.9.2017

Load of rubbish. He was on stage for two hours and didn’t play Summer Of 69.

Might as well get that out of the way first. It was Ryan, not Bryan Adams. Curiously, they share the same birthday, fifteen years apart.

Bit of a late one this, only getting a ticket three days before the concert, with tickets being sold out on the first day of sale. Curiously, for an event listed as “Sold out”, there was a lot of space in the venue.

This was supposed to be his first Belfast concert since 2012, except that it was his first Belfast concert since the previous night.

He was bored on Thursday night and was looking for something to do, so via the power of Social Media, he did a quickly arranged gig in McHugh’s, with profits going to Assisi.

If you want, you can view clips from the McHugh’s gig here.

It was 2001 that I first got into Ryan Adams with his album Gold, and singles such as New York New York and Answering Bell.

It was 14 years later and 12 years earlier came the album that turned him into a Panto Villain in the eyes of the internet, which is literally the worst thing you can be due to him causing anger for “Manspaining” (Not a real word. Anyone who uses it should not be taken seriously) 1989 by Taylor Swift.

There were no Taylor Swift covers, but we were treated to a two hour trip through his back catalogue, and a lot of guitar solos, and then some harmonica solos.

The highlight of which was New York New York.

I would have love to have heard Answering Bell and So Alive, it didn’t matter, Ulster Hall was very much alive.

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 8.9.2017

1. U2 – You’re The Best Thing About Me
2. Ryan Adams – So Alive
3. Steely Dan – Dirty Work
4. Stereophonics – Caught By The Wind
5. Kasabian – Ill Ray

Guess what? I actually got a ticket for Ryan Adams. God bless last minute extra tickets going on sale.

Good luck to all those getting Liam Gallagher tickets this morning. At least with it being moved to The Odyssey from Ulster Hall, it won’t be as much of a scramble. Apologies for sounding smug, but i’ve already got one in the pre-sale.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : 90 MINUTES – 19.12.1992

It’s a double issue of 90 Minutes as Christmas 1992 approaches, with Alan Shearer of Blackburn Rovers being the cover star.

Chris Woods of Sheffield Wednesday gets a double page spread as he looks back at his year, expressing his disappointment at England’s early exit from Euro 92.

90 Minutes Live goes to Millwall v Southend, and canvasses supporters on theri highlights and lowlights of the year.

Les Ferdinand is the subject of a Q and A, where he reveals that he just doesn’t get the fuss about one of the year’s biggest hits, Stay by Shakespear’s Sister.

In Scotland, Hibs striker Keith Wright is interviewed, where he reveals he can’t wait to see the back of 1992.

Pasquale Bruno of Torino is interviewed, where he reveals he wants to play in England, ideally somewhere in the North of England to be close to his friend Ian Rush.

John Byrne gets interviewed as he aims to get Millwall promoted back to the top flight after joining them in a shock transfer, just six months after helping Sunderland reach the FA Cup Final.

In their weekly Italian football column, it is reported that Thomas Brolin is being lined up by Sampdoria.

Darren Ferguson gets interviewed, having broken into the Manchester United team this year, and discusses how hard he has to work to get into the team, picked by his dad Alex.

A player from Manchester United’s future, Dwight Yorke, gets interviewed as he speaks of his frustration at not being able to get a game for Aston Villa due to the form of Dean Saunders and Dalian Atkinson.

Alan McLaren of Hearts is the subject of a Q and A where he reveals that the best ever concert he went to was Wet Wet Wet at Edinburgh Castle.

NORTHERN IRELAND 2-0 CZECH REPUBLIC 4.9.2017

Exactly one year previously, Northern Ireland faced Czech Republic in Prague in their opening World Cup Qualifier. It was a 0-0 draw, a solid foundation to build on.

That night, I was at Ulster Hall to see Squeeze in concert, checking the score on my phone inbetween songs.

Usually at this stage of a World Cup Qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland’s hopes are Up The Junction, but this time was different, fans were already Tempted to make plans for Russia.

Solid foundations are not something Northern Ireland take advantage of. A win in Slovenia and a draw against Italy at the start of Euro 2012 Qualifying were solid foundations, but that campaign turned out to be a disaster.

Those who believe in destiny will have been glad to see Germany and Czech Republic in Northern Ireland’s group. In their former guises of Czechoslovakia and West Germany, they were both in Northern Ireland’s group in the 1958 World Cup Finals.

Those who even tempted fate by thinking of the Play-Offs would have been hoping to avoid a possible meeting with France, who eliminated them in 1958.

Recent meetings didn’t suggest a lot of goals, with the last three meetings between the sides finishing 0-0.

Such a scoreline might not have pleased those who like goals, but it would have been enough for Northern Ireland to secure 2nd place, but not yet a Play-Off place.

The numbers game was simple. Six games since that night in Prague, five more clean sheets, four successive wins, three games to go, two at home and one point was needed.

If they got that point, 2nd place would be secured, but not yet a Play-Off spot.

There are nine groups in Europe and only eight Play-Off places. Someone has to miss out. All nine teams will be ranked on their record against the teams that finish 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th in their group. The team with the worst record would miss out. That would be so typical Northern Ireland to be that 9th team. Every point was vital.

Northern Ireland made a good start to the game, having the first chance when Josh Magennis headed over from a corner. It wasn’t a clear chance, but he was still annoyed with himself, having scored twice on the previous Friday against San Marino.

Czech Republic then had a lot of possession but didn’t do a lot with it.

Stuart Dallas then broke down the left win but his cross went straight to the Czech keeper.

Northern Ireland took the lead on 28 minutes when Oliver Norwood returned a headed clearance back into the penalty area straight into the path of Jonny Evans, who got a slight enough touch to put the ball in. It was his 2nd goal for Northern Ireland, his 1st coming against Poland in 2009.

With goals like that, he could end up getting a move to Man City, or even a big club.

He would have enjoyed ending an 8 year wait, Windsor Park dreamt of ending a 32 year wait.

As half-time approached, his brother Corry wanted to get in on the act, running towards the Czech goal before being brought down.

The free-kick was centrally placed. Right foot, left foot. Hit the target and you’ve got a chance. It was left foot, Chris Brunt, round the wall and beating the keeper at his near post.

Nobody had scored three goals in a competitive game against Northern Ireland since 2013. Nothing from the Czechs so far suggested that was going to change.

The second-half saw Czech Republic have a lot of possession but not do a lot with it. All that Michael McGovern was doing was catching practice.

It wasn’t as if Northern Ireland were sticking men behind the ball. Jonny Evans even found himself in the right wing position during a counter attack.

The final whistle blew and Windsor Park celebrated but not rapturously. It wasn’t job done. It wasn’t close to job done. It was just another smell step on the journey.

The night was made even more enjoyable for me by the lack of smelly tramps around me puffing on fegs and vapes. See, it can be done. Let’s make nights like this more of a regular thing on the pitch and in the stands.

2nd place was secured, as Northern Ireland now sit 2nd out of 9 Runners-Up. They are 5 points clear of 9th place Wales. Barring a Welsh goal spree in their final games, a draw from the last two games will be enough.

It might not even be needed depending on results in other groups.

Never mind 2nd place, we’re still in contention to win the group. Just about. Germany only need one point from their last two games. It’s an absolute credit to Northern Ireland that Germany still haven’t secured qualification despite winning eight games out of eight, considering that Belgium have qualified with seven wins out of eight.

Projected FIFA Rankings suggest that Northern Ireland would be seeded if they reach the Play-Offs. That would mean avoiding Italy and the Runner-Up of the Switzerland/Portugal group.

There would be no easy games but nobody to fear. Nobody who would stand out as being desperate to get. We’ll just have to take what we get and get on with it, much as we have done over the past three years.

You could say the the newly redeveloped Windsor Park has had it’s first night of celebration as an international venue. Let’s hope for another one in November.

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SPARTANS 1-2 LINFIELD 2.9.2017

“Farewell Edinburgh, i’ll see you again in 2018” I thought to myself as I sat in the Departure Lounge at Edinburgh Airport less than a month ago, but the draw for the Irn Bru Challenge Cup had other plans for me.

Regular readers will know that I visit Edinburgh every August and take in a game. Having got a bit bored of alternating between Hearts and Hibs, i’d been commenting on how I wanted to see Spartans get promoted to League Two and take in a game at Ainslie Park.

I did get to see a League To game at Ainslie Park, but it was an Edinburgh City game, as they will be groundsharing with Spartans for the next three years due to Meadowbank Stadium being redeveloped. I’d previously never considered going to see Edinburgh City at Meadowbank Stadium as watching football in a ground with lots of empty seats miles away from the pitch sounded grim.

So, after wanting to visit Ainslie Park, I would be doing so twice in four weeks.

An away game in the Central Belt was convenient, not knowing who not so convenient, with Spartans only being confirmed as Linfield’s opponents nine days before, making it hard for fans to make independent travel arragements. Thankfully, the club offered a package for supporters to travel by bus.

It had been a while since I last travelled to Edinburgh by bus, and I suddenly remembered why I usually fly to Edinburgh.

It was a much changed Linfield starting eleven, far from what you would consider to be Linfield’s first choice eleven, be it if you consider the team that finished last season or the team that has started this season, minus Paul Smyth obviously.

In truth, i’m not sure anybody knows what Linfield’s strongest eleven is at the moment, in a good way, due to there being so many options.

This game offered a first start of the season for Jimmy Callacher after injury, and a start for Matthew Clarke after being on the bench due to injury. Clarke picked up where he left off, linking up well with Niall Quinn on the left hand side.

The only two names that might have been unfamiliar to Linfield fans would have been two recent loan signings Brandon Adams and Louis Rooney up front, though Rooney introduced himself with a hat-trick off the bench on his debut against Distillery in the League Cup.

A hat-trick from Rooney on his debut brought obvious comparisons with another Rooney. It must be remembered, that Wayne Rooney went three games without a goal after a hat-trick on his Manchester United debut. Just to manage expectations.

Spartans had the first chance of the game inside the first minute when Linfield couldn’t clear in their own half, but a long range shot went over.

After that, it was all Linfield pressure, with Brandon Adams having a shot blocked, Niall Quinn heading wide and Josh Robinson firing wide from a corner.

All that Spartans could offer was a Ross Allum shot that was saved.

Adams and Rooney were trying to get used to each other as a partnership. You could see there were promising signs but still need some work on the training ground.

As the half neared it’s end, Linfield got an opportunity to take the lead after a penalty for handball, which Louis Rooney scored with ease.

Within the opening minutes of the second-half, a quick free-kick allowed Stephen Lowry free space to shoot home from the edge of the box.

At 2-0 up, the game looked over and began to meander.

David Healy turned to his bench to give Adams and Rooney the afternoon off.

With about 76 minutes gone, a long ranger shot was spilled by Gareth Deane, and the rebound was finished by Blair Atkinson. Suddenly, the game had become interesting. A lot more interesting than it should have been.

It looked like Stephen Fallon was going to make it 3-1 but his close range effort before Ross Allum had a similar chance saved.

Once Allum’s shot was saved, you got the feeling that was it for Spartans, their best chance of extra-time had gone.

So it proved, as Linfield held on for a win that should have been more comfortable than it was.

Attention turns to the next round, and Linfield’s possible opponents. Here’s the outlook for possible away games.

Doable from Glasgow : Dumbarton, Falkirk, St Mirren

Doable from Edinburgh : Dundee United, Dunfermline, Falkirk, Raith

Bollocks to get to : Inverness

Doable by boat : Queen Of The South

Doable from Aberdeen : Elgin, Peterhead, Montrose, Cove

Short trip across Belfast : Crusaders

Dream : Stranraer

If there is a Football Santa, i’m hoping i’ve been a good boy and Linfield get Stranraer away.

Talking of long trips, Linfield got Ballinamallard in the League Cup. We’ve won every time i’ve went but this is on a weeknight. They can beat them without my presence inspiring them?

With Linfield being inactive today in League terms, Coleraine took the opportunity to go top of the League with a win over Glenavon.

Up next for Linfield, a home match against unbeaten Glentoran. Now, that would be a nice bubble to burst.

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