I said it in January that if Linfield turn their season around and win the league, manager David Jeffrey will deserve praise that will come his way, and so, now that the title has been won, congratulations are in order.
Every league title win, is usually followed with a ‘but’. It’s either a ‘but’, ‘But’ or ‘BUT’, depending on how much work needs done before the start of the following season.
In December, the chances of David Jeffrey being in charge at this point, never mind celebrating the title looked bleak. It wasn’t the fact that the team was losing matches, but losing matches in an unacceptable manner.
There was a point in November/December when going a goal down meant game over. That was it, no belief, no fight, no spirit, and the calls for him to go were getting louder, but most importantly, more credible.
That’s the telling point, as the fickle nature of football fans means that there will always be people who complain and want a change of manager.
These people are usually a minority and are generally ignored by the key decision makers at the club because their case for can be easily contested.
If you suggested after leaving the Ballymena game in late December or at half-time in the re-arranged Boxing Day game, nobody could have argued against it. There was nothing, not even a slight glimmer of hope that things would improve.
In late 2003, when he was supposedly one game away from the sack against Dungannon Swifts, the players ran straight to him after going 1-0 with less than 10 minutes to go. In December or January, if we went 1-0 up woth less than 10 minutes to go, I have my doubts if the goalscorer would have ran to him.
The turning point came at The Oval in January at half-time. 1-0 down, outplayed, with Glentoran players mocking their opponents by showboating, to the delight of their fans, the game looked up for Jeffrey.
It’s bad enough to not turn up, but to not turn up in a game of that magnitude is simply unforgivable.
Sometimes, when backed into a corner, you just go for broke and take risks you wouldn’t normally take.
It was a different team, who should have won, but ended up having to settle for a point. Most satisfactorally of all, after Gary Hamilton’s equaliser, the players merely dusted themselves down, to look for a winner, which ultimately never came.
As much as I detest “moral victories”, the fact that the players kept their heads up, whereas a month earlier, they might have lost 3-2 was something to build on, just a glimmer of hope.
Why did it come to this?
Why did the season start in late-January?
After routine victories over Newry and Distillery, the next summit meeting, at home to Crusaders, proved to be a pointer that the 2010 Linfield model could just be the real deal.
It wasn’t an exhibition of total football, but it was one of the best performances of the season. It was everything that had been missing over the past 18 months – Heart, Fight, Passion.
1-0 up at half-time but down to 10 men, perhaps the 2009 could have got nervous, got tired, and dropped the points, the 2010 version took the game to Crusaders and laid down the gauntlet.
If you want an attritional warfare, we’ll stand up and be counted and beat you. If you want a football match, we’ll beat you. Either way, we’ll beat you.
This came a week after a 4-2 defeat to Coleraine. Previously in the season, a disapponting result could have triggered 3 or 4 succesive such results, it was merely a case of dusting themselves down and just getting on with it.
The following week against Portadown, it all came together. Portadown actually started well in the game and were on top for the first 10-15 minutes.
Crucially, not only did Linfield score when on top, they score a second whilst still on top. Before Portadown could get a chance to get back into the game at the start of the second-half, a third goal was scored to kill the game, with a nother two for icing.
Just when things looked set to be coming together, things come to bite you in the ass, as droped points to Glenavon and Cliftonville allowed Glentoran to go into the Easter Tuesday clash at Windsor Park 2 points behind.
After going 1-0 down early on, it could have been a case of “same old, same old” but tonight was different. No feeling sorry for themselves, just a case of getting on with it, a belief that they were better than the opposition, and that the goals to get the win would come.
Following this up with the Irish Cup Semi-Final win over Coleraine, the fear of failure and the crippling fear of not being able to come back from behind was truly put to bed.
Crucially, the squad was proving their worth. The first choice strike partnership for most of 2010 of Peter Thompson and Curtis Allen hit a barren run in front of goal.
Nobody noticed, as other players (in defence and midfield) were standing up to be counted and scoring crucial goals when it mattered, and Paul Munster hitting form in April and Mark McAllister contributing goals, really emphasising the importance of having 4 top quality strikers.
No reliance on the strikers to get the goals. They could be nullified, but a midfielder could take the game by the scruff of the neck and get the decisive goal, or even a defender coming up from the back.
Concern must be raised at the number of defeats, as winning the league with 7 defeats is an unacceptably high amount.
The future of Peter Thompson, currently on loan from Stockport County, needs to resolved one way or the other.
10 cleansheets since alan Blayney returned to the team is a foundation which should be built on. The age of our central defenders is a cause for concern though.
This summer it wouldn’t be a surprise to say farewell to Conor Hagan, Johnny Harkness and Aiden O’Kane.
Before Kris Lindsay got injured, I would have had William Murphy on this list, but he’s taken advantage of his new opportunity and has re-established himself in the team.
Paul Munster looked to be on the fringes, then suddenly scored the goal that virtually clinched the title.
Michael Gault is slowly getting back to his best form, inspired by the lurking shadow of Jamie Mulgre getting back to fitness to take his place.
That’s the importance of a squad, where players are desperate to make the most of any opportunity that comes their way.
The ever decreasing average age of the squad gives hope that success is not just now, but the future.
We are now in a position of strength, the importane thing is to stay there and avoid a repeat of the mistakes of 2008.
There’s pressure every season at Linfield, but next season is the club’s 125th anniversary. Don’t cock this one up Davy.