THE FRIDAY FIVE – 17.1.2020

1. Post Malone – Circles
2. Wallis Bird – That’s What Life Is For
3. Harry Styles – Adore You
4. The Lightning Seeds – Sense
5. Badly Drawn Boy – Something To Talk About

CLIFTONVILLE 1-2 LINFIELD 13.1.2020

After five games in fourteen days over the Christmas/New Year period, a nine day break allowed Linfield to get the benefit of the Three Rs ahead of the second half of the season as they looked to win back to back titles – Rested, Refreshed and Ready.

You could add a fourth R to that list – Reds Beaten Again.

To say that the Christmas/New Year period did not go well for Linfield is a bit of an understatement, as they looked to bounce back from their Irish Cup defeat to Queen’s University, the biggest shock in Irish League Football since Liam Beckett started up an ASMR Channel.

Bizarrely, Cliftonville would have been perfect opponents for Linfield on the back of the game against Queens, having beaten twice after cup exits, in September after exiting the UEFA Cup and then in December after going out of the NIFL Cup.

Now, Linfield need to invent a cup competition that they can go out of just before they play Cliftonville in April.

Linfield’s run of results over Christmas/New Year showed how quickly fortunes can change in football. After victory at Warrenpoint, taking advantage of draws from Coleraine, Glentoran and Crusaders to pull clear at the top. The title was in the bag and the open top bus was ordered.

Three weeks later, Linfield were in crisis.

Yet on Sunday afternoon a Tweet of the recent form in the Irish League made for interesting reading. Linfield sat 4th in the Form Guide, over the last ten games, just two points behind in-form Cliftonville and only four less points than unstoppable Glentoran, both of whom only managed one more win that crisis club Linfield in that period.

There have been times in recent years where Cliftonville have went on winning runs, but that has been as a result of a generous run of games. Their current winning run of four League games saw wins over Coleraine, Crusaders and Larne, a statement of intent that they believe they can win big games.

A win over the reigning Champions, who they lost to in their last five meetings, would be the biggest statement, even though all the post match coverage would be of the continuing crisis at Windsor Park

It wasn’t quite a must win game, but it definitely was a must not lose game for Linfield. Defeat wouldn’t have been fatal to Linfield’s title hopes, but it wasn’t a conversation they wanted to be having.

Two televised games meant that this matchday would be staggered across four days.

Friday night saw Coleraine take on Crusaders on BBC Two. Whatever happened, at least one of Linfield’s rivals would be dropping points. A draw would have been perfect, but I could live with a Coleraine win if it meant Crusaders getting adrift. As it turned out, Crusaders won, but Linfield could live with it, as we could pull clear of Coleraine instead.

That defeat for Coleraine allowed Glentoran the opportunity to go top on Saturday afternoon.

If you find Saturday afternoons without a Linfield match to be unbearable, you had better get used to it, as a combination of cup exits and TV scheduling means that was the first of five Saturdays over the next eight weeks where Linfield would be inactive.

Glentoran took their opportunity to go top of the League with a 2-1 win over Warrenpoint. Just about. They were 1-0 down with 15 minutes to go when Warrenpoint’s keeper got sent-off, the third successive Saturday they’ve enjoyed a bit of luck (after goalkeeping error and then a dodgy penalty). I see those days are back.

Glentoran’s reign at the top would only last 48 hours, as the result of this match would see new leaders. Avoiding defeat would do the job for Cliftonville while only a win would do for Linfield.

Storm Brendan, it turned out, was not a Glentoran supporter. If he was, he would have got this match postponed to let them enjoy being at the top of the table for a little longer.

Other TV options on Monday fitted in nicely with this match. Getaways on BBC, which is what Linfield want to be doing in July and August, jetting off around Europe, ideally in the European Cup.

Cold Feet on ITV was what the crowd got, as they watched this match in chilly temperatures. Though, if you wanted to watch something that would make James Nesbitt grumpy, Coleraine’s defeat a few days earlier would have been a better option.

For me, this was my first night visit to Solitude. It meant a change to my pre-match superstitions.

Usually, I go to Papa Drew’s on Oldpark Road for lunch prior to a Saturday game, but it was closed. As was Cod Almighty a few shops down.

So, I had to make do with a Chinese. Not ideal. Though, if we won 10-0, it was have been Chinese all the way in future.

Despite Christmas being long gone, Linfield set up with a Christmas Tree, with a midfield three of Jamie Mulgrew, Stephen Fallon and Andrew Mitchell being a midfield set up for a battle.

For the first time in a long time, Linfield had a bench with a lot of attacking options – Andrew Waterworth, Matthew Shevlin, Kirk Millar, Daniel Kearns and Bastien Hery being on call should they be needed.

It was Cliftonville who had the first shot with a Conor McMenamin shot from outside the box that was easily saved.

Ruaidhri Donnelly then headed against the bar. However, it was the top of the bar so it looked closer than it was. However, it was worrying that Cliftonville were winning headers in Linfield’s penalty area.

Linfield’s first real spell on the ball saw them get a penalty when Liam Bagnall handled a goalward shot.

Jordan Stewart looked as though he wanted to take the penalty, but it was left to Andrew Mitchell.

I was slightly worried when he stepped up as he was due a miss. Cliftonville fans were hoping that would be the case. They would be left disappointed as Mitchell put Linfield 1-0 up.

Cliftonville had the next attacking moment when a Joe Gormley cross went tantalisingly across the six yard box, but Ryan Curran couldn’t get on the end of it.

It was Gormley who made it 1-1 when Ethan Boyle was disposed and he ran through to score, despite protests for offside from Linfield.

It was Gormley’s first goal against Linfield since since November 2018. His record against us is bizarre. He either goes ages without a goal against us or scores in successive matches, so this is a bit ominous ahead of future games.

That goal seemed to make Linfield lose their discipline and shape, running about after the ball as if somebody had thrown a toy into a Dog Pound.

They were glad to get in at half-time at 1-1, to calm themselves down and go at it at half-time.

The half-time break saw a change for Linfield, with Mark Stafford coming on for the injured Mark Haughey.

The second-half saw a lot of early pressure, which got rewarded when Mark Stafford jabbed the ball home after a flick on from Ethan Boyle.

It wasn’t what he was brought into the team to do, but just like at Dungannon last season, it was a contribution that was welcomed. Just like at Dungannon last season, it was a goal that came when Linfield really needed it.

The goal came from an outswinging corner. It’s always good to have a bit of variety at corners instead of always going for an inswinger. That was probably due to them always being taking by a right sided player. It has been a bit surprising that neither Matthew Clarke or Joel Cooper have taken corners in the absence of Niall Quinn.

You got the feel that if Linfield made it 3-1, that would be the points in the bag.

It looked like they were going to get it when Shayne Lavery burst clear after a defensive mistake, only to be denied by a save from Richard Brush, with the rebound going out for a corner after the ball went to wide to stick the rebound in.

Joe Gormley then left the pitch to ironic cheers from Linfield fans, as he made way for Michael McCrudden to make his debut for the club. It turned out that Gormley was injured, as it seemed odd that he would be substituted when they needed a goal most.

Linfield turned to their bench and freshened things up with a like for like change up front, with Kirk Millar coming on for Jordan Stewart.

Despite the narrow lead, Linfield were mostly comfortable and never really troubled in defence.

Jamie Mulgrew was having what I thought would be described as a silent influence on the game, the sort that goes unnoticed. However, a quick browse through Social Media proved me to be wrong, the general consensus that this was his best performance in a long time.

Every time Cliftonville got near or over the halfway line, they were usually to get the ball off Jamie Mulgrew within the next five seconds. Thou shalt not pass.

Not tonight lads, you’re not getting near our goal.

Despite holding out for most of the second-half at 2-1, it was only natural that Cliftonville would have more of the ball in the final minutes, as they had the greater need.

And so it proved, as Linfield had to survive a flurry of corners.

And penalty shouts. Well, you know what I mean. I’ve been to Solitude enough times to know that Cliftonville fans claim for everything when they attack their fans, it still makes you nervous.

That flurry of corners and possession would bring one big chance for Cliftonville, when a cross set up Aaron Donnelly perfectly for a header, but he made no contact with the ball.

Rohan Ferguson looked well positioned if he did, but Donnelly should have been asking the question.

As the ball went out, the clock hit 94 minutes. That was it, the game was gone. Rohan Ferguson completed the formalities, the final whistle blowing as soon as he took his goal kick.

At 2-1, Cliftonville looked short of ideas and self belief against a team they have struggled against in recent years. It was like watching this fixture between 2012 and 2016, but with the roles reversed.

If you like stats, here’s some for you.

This was Linfield’s 4th win in their last 5 games at Solitude, the other being a draw.

Since Cliftonville’s last title in 2014, Linfield have played 13 games at Solitude, winning 7 drawing 4 and losing just 2.

This was Linfield 6th successive League win over Cliftonville.

Most importantly, this was a result that saw Linfield go top of the League on goal difference ahead of Glentoran and Cliftonville.

If the result against Queen’s taught us anything, is that you can’t take any win for granted. However, upcoming games give Linfield an opportunity to go on a winning run and build momentum, putting pressure on the teams below us, as five of the next six games are against teams in the bottom half.

I didn’t want to say it at the time, but I was hoping that the free weekend in February could be used for a friendly away to a League Of Ireland side. No footballing value to it, I just wanted the prospect of a trip away somewhere to cheer me up.

Cork possibly, so I could lay flowers at the site where Billy Murphy fell and died and his brains were coming out of his mouth.

Derry City had similar ideas, with one paper running a story about a possible friendly between the sides after Declan Devine said they were trying to face an Irish League side that weekend.

It’s hardly an earth shattering revelation that League Of Ireland sides monitor the Irish Cup to see who is free in early February.

Such a game wouldn’t have been that appealing to me. I don’t usually bother with home friendlies, and I’ve already been to The Brandywell this season, so as a trip it didn’t offer me somewhere I hadn’t been before. As it turned out, Portadown got that honour.

As it turned out, Linfield are using that free Saturday to play midweek games around it. They’ve been a bit crafty about it. Other clubs have been happy to manipulate the fixture list for their own agendas, so why not Linfield?

We’ll be facing Larne on the back of games against Crusaders and Glentoran and just before their Irish Cup tie, which is what their season is about now. If they are the slightest bit tired or off focus, we must capitalise on it.

The following Tuesday, is Dungannon at home, with Dungannon coming off the back of an Irish Cup tie against Newry, which let’s be honest, has extra-time and penalties written all over it.

Midweek football is going to be quite frequent for me during January, as next week I head to Manchester to see United take on Burnley.

While i’m there on the Tuesday, Salford City face Accrington Stanley in the EFL Trophy, and FC United face Sheffield in the Integro Cup, the Northern Premier League’s version of the League Cup. Might take in one of those games.

Talking of football trips, the League Of Ireland First Division fixture list was announced and Bray won’t playing at home when i’m staying there during Euro 2020. I’ll have to make do with a Dublin game on the Monday night.

St Patrick’s Athletic v Cork is looking likely as Richmond Park is easier to get to, although it is tempting to get one last game at Dalymount Park, although I thought that when I visited it in 2016.

Coincidentally, government funding was announced this week for that redevelopment. I didn’t realise they had to wait for the Northern Ireland Assembly to get back together to release funding.

You’d think there was an election in the Republic of Ireland next month.

I’m still looking for somewhere to go over the July Holidays. I spent a miserable Sunday night looking for somewhere to go and got nothing. Estonia might night be happening.

Waterford might, it is very tempting. They play at home over that weekend too, against Cork. I know, what is it with this urge to see Cork City?

More immediate, is Linfield v Dungannon Swifts on Saturday, as part of a busy day where i’ll be going to see Badly Drawn Boy in the evening.

Hoping that the Linfield match can be described as Something To Talk About rather than a Silent Sigh or Pissing In The Wind.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MATCH – 9.12.1989

Match action from Scotland v England is the cover image of this week’s edition, as the two countries could be paired together in the forthcoming draw for the 1990 World Cup.

Bobby Davison of Leeds United shows Match around his house, sharing his matchday routine and his CD collection.

It’s the 2nd Round of the FA Cup, and Aylesbury are hoping to shock Northampton Town. Their manager Trevor Gould knows someone with FA Cup pedigree, his brother Bobby won the competition 18 months earlier.

Hans Gilhaus of Aberdeen gets a profile, stating that his best form is yet to come, despite a goalscoring start to his career in Scotland, saying that Aberdeen have a lot of similarities to his former club PSV Eindhoven.

In news, South African born Roy Wegerle is hoping to play for USA in the 1994 World Cup, as he’ll have to wait until 1991 to get US citizenship.

David Platt tells Match he has no plans to leave Aston Villa, having turned down Watford and Hibs to join them from Crewe.

In foreign news, Chris Waddle could have increased competition at Marseille, with the club strengthening their squad.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : ALTERNATIVE ULSTER – JUNE 2003

This week, we go back to the launch issue of Alternative Ulster, asking if you were ready for Therapy?, as in, the band.

In news, Meg White made a surprise visit to Auntie Annie’s to see a recent gig by Soledad Brothers.

With the summer approaching, there is a preview for Witnness, with acts such as Coldplay, Manic Street Preachers, Snow Patrol and The Datsuns on the bill.

Recently in Belfast, there is an interview with Feeder, continuing on after the death of drummer Jon Lee.

Cover star Andy Cairns gets eight pages worth of interview, which took place as he watched a repeat of the 1978 World Cup match between Scotland and Holland at a friend’s house.

There is a double page feature on the clothes shop Apache in Belfast City Centre, and a look at the various tribes that frequent it.

The club night Mono gets a column, and even offers a playlist to readers, featuring the likes of Duran Duran, David Bowie and My Bloody Valentine.

In album reviews, there were reviews of Blur, Therapy? and Dandy Warhols.

Concert reviews featured Radiohead’s recent gig at the Waterfront Hall and The Coral at The Limelight.

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY 2-1 LINFIELD 4.1.2019

There is no way to gloss over this result, it was embarrassing.

After a difficult Christmas/New Year period, the Irish Cup offered a respite for Linfield, ahead of a nine day break before resuming League action.

The draw gave them an away trip to Lower League opposition, a great chance of progress and a new ground for fans to visit.

Well, not for all of us.

Due to the capacity of The Dub, Linfield were restricted to 150 tickets. Unfortunately, I missed out on getting one.

Undeterred, I decided to head over and chance my luck.

I asked at Reception and they had no spares, but I found a spot outside the ground to watch from. It was ok, but there some parts of the pitch that were obscured. While standing there, I was offered a ticket at face value so I decided to take it and get a better view.

If you did want to watch the match from outside, you could do so, or you could watch it from a sofa in The Pavillion, albeit with a restricted view.

The Dub is very small with no room for manoeuvre with regards to fitting more fans in. There could have been ways around it though.

They could have closed off some of the Car Park and created a standing area behind the goal at that end. I’m not sure what the feasibility was of playing the game at the pitch beside it, which had a bigger stand and standing area around the pitch.

After a busy run of games, I had expected some changes, with some players being rested and others who had been inactive recently getting some much needed game time.

That was not to be the case, although we did see three at the back getting binned.

It was a big day for Ethan Boyle, recently signed from Shamrock Rovers. Not only was it his birthday, he turned 23, he made his debut at right-back, coming in for Mark Haughey who continues his recovery from injury with a rest.

Do you want to feel really old? The day that Ethan Boyle was born, Saturday 4th January 1997, was the day that David Jeffrey took charge of his first match as Linfield manager.

In a match like this, Linfield had to be on the front foot early on, and not give Queen’s an opportunity to settle in the game. That would not be the case.

In fact, it was Rohan Ferguson who was the busier keeper, making a series of saves to keep it at 0-0.

On 38 minutes, Queen’s took the lead when Marc McKenna dispossessed Bastien Hery and then nutmegged Jimmy Callacher before firing home from outside the box. It was a goal that had been coming.

Once again, it was another poor goal conceded by Linfield. We’ve conceded some absolute shockers recently.

It acted as a wake-up call for Linfield, 38 minutes too late you could say.

Jamie Mulgrew, facing his younger brother Ben, hit the top of the bar as Linfield looked to go in at half-time level.

In the final minute of the half, it looked like Linfield had been given a reprieve with a penalty being awarded for a handball from a corner. However, the whistle was actually blown for a foul in the build-up.

The second-half began, or rather didn’t begin, in farcical circumstances, as the start was delayed due to the net that Linfield were attacking in the first-half being broken. I’m not sure how, as it didn’t see any action.

When the second-half did begin, it did so with Linfield being camped in Queen’s half. For the first time in the match, it felt like a Linfield goal was imminent.

Mark Stafford had a header hit the bar, while Joel Cooper saw his header from the rebound saved. Jamie Mulgrew then had an effort go wide as it looked like Queen’s had seen out the Linfield onslaught.

Joel Cooper was now getting the better of his opposing full-back, but he continued to frustrate with his final ball.

Just before the hour, Shayne Lavery was introduced for Daniel Kearns, and the impact was immediate, as he headed home from a corner to make it 1-1.

That should have been the springboard for Linfield to go on and win the game. However, there would be no onslaught, with Queen’s looking comfortable at 1-1.

On 75 minutes, the match swung in Queen’s favour when Mark Stafford slipped under pressure and handled the ball in the penalty area. After a delay, a penalty was given.

Jonah Mitchell stepped up to put Queen’s 2-1 up. Ironically, he was given his senior debut and then loaned to Queen’s by former Linfield manager Warren Feeney.

Linfield were in deep trouble and time was running out. Matthew Shevlin and Jordan Stewart came on for Bastien Hery and Mark Stafford in search of an equaliser.

That looked like coming when a through ball saw Matthew Shevline get in behind Queen’s defence, control the ball and go round the keeper, with the offside flag going up as he was putting the ball into the net. He looked onside to me.

Linfield were running out of ideas, and hoping to get lucky with a free-kick. The best they could offer was a header from Jimmy Callacher which was disallowed for offside.

In fact, it looked like Queen’s were more likely to score on the counter attack.

It looked like one of those free-kicks would bring Linfield an equaliser when a headed clearance fell to Kirk Millar, whose cross was headed wide by Matthew Shevlin from a few yards out. He really should have scored. If he hit the target, he would have.

Everybody sensed that was Linfield’s big chance, and it had gone. This was going to be Queen’s day.

Unfortunately, there would be no dodgy 95th minute penalty to save us. I note those days have returned. We would have missed anyway.

And so it proved, as they held on for a famous win. The most damming thing for Linfield was that they deserved it. It wasn’t a smash and grab.

To make it worse for Linfield, Larne and Dungannon Swifts both won, meaning that the free Saturday on Saturday 1st February can’t be used to slot in one of the two games that need rearranged.

Dungannon Swifts and Larne both have winnable ties, meaning the Quarter-Final date of Saturday 29th February probably won’t be able to be used to slot in one of these games.

If you’re a calendar nerd like me, you’ll be especially annoyed at Linfield not having a game on 29th February. Unless we have a midweek game between now and then, February 29th won’t fall on a Saturday until 2048.

So what now for Linfield?

Three trophies have gone and all focus is on the League.

Ironically, in order to over throw Cliftonville, Linfield must now look to Cliftonville’s past as an inspiration.

The important thing is not to panic. Just three weeks ago, Linfield were about to run away with the League, now it looks like the season might be falling apart.

The line-up for this game was totally wrong. There are too many players who have played too much football and need a rest. This game, the fifth in fourteen days should have been used to give some players a rest and others some much needed game time.

Linfield’s results since the 7-0 win over Warrenpoint have followed a worrying trend: 0-1, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, 0-6, 3-0, 0-1, 2-1, 1-0, 0-3, 1-0, 2-0, 1-1, 0-3, 1-1, 3-0, 1-2.

Far too many 0s and 1s in those first figures.

The games where Linfield have scored more than one in that run have been against Carrick Rangers, Ballymena United, Warrenpoint Town and Institute (twice).

That is quite damming.

Linfield have been too slow starting games, allowing teams to get settled, and against Crusaders and Glentoran, giving away early goals and chasing the game, while also struggling against teams who are well organised in defence.

Even against Warrenpoint last month, we didn’t push on after scoring inside the first minute.

There’s no urgency in attack, teams are allowed to get comfortable.

When we create chances, the final ball goes awry, or we aren’t reactive enough when the ball is loose.

Now the fixture list has calmed down, but not in the way we wanted. We’ll be having a lot of gaps now.

This upcoming nine day gap couldn’t come at a better time. A chance to recharge batteries and get minds focused on the task at hand.

That task now is retaining the League title. It’s the only thing we can do now.

It is so important to be in Europe next season. Linfield gained a lot of co-efficient points this season. It might take a while to see the benefits but we have to continue to be in Europe and keep getting those points in order to secure a favourable draw, that’s how The New Saints got to be seeded when they enter the European Cup.

As said earlier, Linfield can use Cliftonville as a form of inspiration.

January 2014, reigning champions and just dumped out of the Irish Cup at the first stage on the back of a bumpy run of results in the League, although losing a replay to Coleraine is a bit more respectable. Sounds familiar.

They focused their minds and energy on the League and went on a winning run to secure the title.

And that winning run started against Linfield. The task for Linfield is to do something similar, starting against Cliftonville.

If we can get through the game at Solitude, we have a run of games against Bottom 6 opposition coming up, and a great chance of getting a winning run going.

Although saying that, a tie against Championship opposition should have been an opportunity to start a cup run.

It seems a bit coincidental that the lack of goals and dodgy results have come while Niall Quinn has been out injured. Key at both ends of the pitch.

There won’t be any trophy celebrations for Linfield at Windsor Park in May 2020. Let’s make sure there are celebrations for Linfield at Windsor Park in April 2020.

Photo Album

THE FRIDAY FIVE – 3.1.2020

1. Neil Innes – Raggy Dolls
2. Harry Styles – Adore You
3. Tonnes and I – Dance Monkey
4. Dua Lipa – Don’t Start Now
5. Inhaler – Ice Cream Sundae

Tonight on BBC Four (9pm) sees The Story Of 1989, which will officially start the repeats of Top Of The Pops episodes from 1989 on BBC Four (Starting Thursday 9th January)

So, to celebrate this, here’s some songs from 1989 for you.

1. Then Jerico – Big Are
2. Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start The Fire
3. Tom Petty – Freefallin
4. Tears For Fears – Sowing The Seeds Of Love
5. Queen – The Miracle

LINFIELD 3-0 INSTITUTE 1.1.2020

New Year’s Day, time to make some resolutions and make a new start. Well, that’s what Linfield were hoping after a disappointing run of results over Christmas.

In terms of wanting to change the habit of not winning, Institute would have been perfect opponents if Linfield had to choose.

It wasn’t the fact that that Linfield haven’t lost to Institute since 2003 (or at Windsor Park since 2002, last dropping points to them there since 2009) or the fact that Linfield have won the last nine meetings.

It was the fact that twice last season, games against Institute, in November and then in March, saw Linfield come out of a bumpy spell of results to recover their composure and start a run of wins.

Even earlier this season, victory over Institute, coming off the back of a 6-0 defeat to Dundalk, began a run of five wins out of the next six League matches.

Sandwiched in the middle of a busy run of games, it was unsurprising that there were changes to Linfield’s starting eleven.

What was surprising was the way they lined up, 3-5-2 with Matthew Clarke one of those three in defence.

With no Mark Stafford or Josh Robinson on the bench, it was a case of making the most of the players who were available.

I’d be slightly worried if we lined up like that against Cliftonville on 13th January, as when Institute attacked, Linfield’s defence looked exposed and open.

Unsurprisingly, Linfield had a lot of the ball in the early stages of the game, the game mostly taking place in Institute’s half. It looked like it was a matter of time until Linfield scored.

It looked like that goal came when Andrew Waterworth finished from close range but the goal was disallowed as the cross from Daniel Kearns was just out of play.

As with most games this season, Linfield’s best moments came when Joel Cooper got on the ball. Institute couldn’t handle him. However, the final ball usually went to an Institute player, or Institute were able to get a body in the way and thwart him.

Bastien Hery then had a shot from outside the box as Linfield continued to be frustrated as they searched for the opening goal.

That came when Linfield were awarded a penalty for a foul on, who else, Joel Cooper. Having scored two penalties when the sides met in November, Andrew Waterworth got his third penalty goal of the season against Institute to put Linfield 1-0 up.

This was a game that Linfield were never going to win 1-0. You got the feeling that once they got one, the floodgates would open.

Within a few minutes, it looked like that was going to be the case when Shayne Lavery got in behind Institute’s defence, but his shot was turned over by Institute’s keeper Rory Brown, being watched by his proud mother Agnes.

The respite was brief for Institute, as the resulting corner was flicked on by Andrew Waterworth for Mark Haughey to finish from close range to make it 2-0.

It seemed that Kirk Millar was the only person taking corners, which meant we were treated to outswinging corners for the first time in a long time.

It’s always good to mix and match at set pieces, and outswingers seemed to be working for Linfield, with Shayne Lavery having gone close with an earlier effort.

The half-time whistle blew with Linfield in a commanding lead, which they needed on a day when the Top 6 faced the Bottom 6, and all of the Top 6 teams were winning.

Linfield just needed another goal just to be sure, and not give Institute any encouragement that they can get back into the game.

They had enough opportunities to get it in the opening minutes of the second-half.

Shayne Lavery got played through but dragged his shot wide, the finish of a man in a goal drought. In September or October, the ball would have been blasted into the back of the net.

A few minutes later, a pull back from Joel Cooper saw Lavery shoot goalwards, but his effort was blocked at the expense of a corner.

Mark Haughey was then denied by the post from a set piece as Linfield searched for a third clinching goal. Andrew Waterworth was then denied from a wide angle as he got in behind Institute’s defence.

Having scored in Institute’s last two visits to Windsor Park, it was no surprised that Jordan Stewart was introduced from the bench, coming on for Daniel Kearns.

Stewart was involved in Linfield’s third goal, when his saved shot fell perfectly for Shayne Lavery to finish from a few yards out, the perfect sort of goal you want when having a drought. Hopefully, the start of a run.

With the game won, Linfield now had the opportunity to make changes, with Matthew Shevlin coming on for Andrew Waterworth, and Ross Larkin coming on for Mark Haughey. Larkin had a chance to score in injury time, but his close range effort was saved by Brown, who made himself big.

An easy win for Linfield on a day when they had to win. There would be no favours elsewhere in the League, as all of the Top 5 won.

Assessing the Christmas period over a four game basis, it was disappointing for Linfield, missing an opportunity to kill off three rivals, and allowing Cliftonville and Glentoran to make up ground on them.

The League is getting parked this weekend, as Linfield enter the Irish Cup, with a trip to Queen’s University, where they’ll be hoping to graduate into the next round. Apologies.

I’m still trying to get a ticket for that one, so if you know of one going, get in touch.

After a busy run of games, I would expect some changes to be made, with Kyle McClean and
Ethan Boyle getting some minutes.

As said earlier, the Top 6 met the Bottom 6, and it was a clean sweep for the Top 6, so it’s as you were at the top.

The next Matchday, January 10th to 13th is very interesting, as Coleraine face Crusaders and Cliftonville face Linfield in televised games, while Glentoran should be beating Warrenpoint Town.

Like recent games, it’s not quite must win, but it’s do not lose. Let’s be ruthless and burst a hole in Cliftonville’s balloon. The nine day break coming up will be beneficial to us, a change to recharge and get ready for the run-in.

So, 2020s football watching has already started, and trips to Manchester and Dublin are already scheduled in.

I’m still thinking about a Tallinn/Helsinki double header in July.

Also, in 2020, Harland and Wolff Welders will move to a new ground, so i’ll hope to get a visit there when it opens.

But what I really want to see in 2020, is another League title for Linfield. Oh, and another Irish Cup.

Photo Album

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : 90 MINUTES – 6.4.1996

Gary and Phil Neville of Manchester United are the cover stars of this edition of 90 Minutes, as the 95-96 season enters it’s final stages.

In news, Rangers are linked with a move to sign Danish striker Mikkel Beck, while Wolves have opened up a Cyber Cafe at Molineux.

Ruud Gullit has joined the BBC as a pundit for Euro 96, while Sasa Curcic has pledged his future to Bolton, even if they get relegated.

Cover stars Gary and Phil Neville get a three page interview, described as the most famous brothers in Manchester, after the Gallaghers.

Kevin Lloyd, AKA Tosh from The Bill, talks to 90 Minutes about his love of Derby County.

There is a full page profile of new Fulham manager Micky Adams.

90 Minutes Live canvasses opinions at Exter v Plymouth, asking if the recent stories about Mad Cow Disease will put fans off getting a burger at the match.

The magazine ends with a report on a celebrity match at Wembley between England and Scotland, which England won 2-1, ahead of the Euro 96 match between the professionals in just over two months time.

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF A FOOTBALL YEAR : 2019

My football watching for 2019 is over and my football watching for 2020 isn’t that far away.

As is tradition, time to look back at my football watching over the past twelve months.

Matches : 53

Goals : 147

Red Cards : 9

Missed Penalties : 4

Hat-Tricks : 5

Jordan Stewart (Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)
Andrew Waterworth (Dungannon Swifts v Linfield)
Shayne Lavery (Linfield v Glenavon)
Shayne Lavery (Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)
Joel Cooper (Linfield v Warrenpoint Town)

Teams Seen : 33

Ards, Ballymena United, Belarus, Bray Wanderers, Burnley, Carrick Rangers, Cardiff City (1st time), Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Dundee, Dundela, Dunfermline Athletic, Estonia, FK Sutjeska (1st time), Germany, Glenavon, Glentoran, HB Torshavn (1st time), Hibernian, Holland, IFK Norkopping (1st time), Institute, Limerick (1st time), Linfield, Manchester United, Newry City, Northern Ireland, Partizan Belgrade (1st time), Qarabag, Rosenborg, St Mirren (1st time), St Patrick’s Athletic, Warrenpoint Town

Stadiums Visited : 19

Ballymena Showgrounds, Carlisle Grounds, Clandeboye Park, Coleraine Showgrounds, East End Park, Easter Road, Milltown, Mourneview Park, Newry Showgrounds, Old Trafford, Richmond Park, Seaview, Solitude, Stangmore Park, Taylor’s Avenue, The Brandywell, The Oval, Wilgar Park, Windsor Park,

Competitions : 11

County Antrim Shield, European Championship Qualifiers, European Cup, FA Premier League, Irish Cup, Irish League, League Of Ireland First Division, NIFL Cup, Scottish Championship, Scottish Premier League, UEFA Cup

Curiousities :

Two hat-tricks in the same match by two players on the same team, Linfield v Warrenpoint Town on 22nd October.