If you’d told me a couple of months ago that i’d be watching Linfield play at Stangmore Park on the second Saturday in February, my reaction would have been ……. Tricky Irish Cup tie.
I had not anticipated that Linfield would be, um, taking advantge of their early Irish Cup exit to play a rearranged League game against Dungannon Swifts, postponed a few weeks back.
My first visit to Dungannon was in 2009, and my personal record there is not very good. Linfield won my first visit there, but not in my next three League visits (I did see an Irish Cup win in 2011)
Not only that, but Linfield’s last three League wins came when I was out of the country.
So me being there looked like i’d put the scud on, especially when we went 1-0 down midway through the first-half.
The whole day felt surreal, the novelty of playing a League game on this date, the weather, and the lower than usual crowd led to a very flat atmosphere as Linfield struggled to get going.
Amazingly, Dungannon’s goal prompted Linfield into life. Usually, when Linfield concede, performance levels drop on the immediate aftermath as players start to feel sorry for themselves.
Within minutes, Linfield equalised through a Brian McCaul header. Soon afterwards, Matthew Tipton should have scored when he was through.
There are two stats which really sum up Linfield this season, and the last few months especially.
Only once (17 games) since November 3rd have Linfield kept a clean sheet.
Only once (11 games) since December 15th have neither Matthew Tipton or Brian McCaul scored.
What it means is that Linfield are heavily reliant on two players for goals, and need to score at least three goals just to be sure of actually winning a game.
Rather worryingly, Tipton (at 1-1) and McCaul (late on, at 4-1) were both substituted with knocks. Hopefully, just as a precaution.
Linfield were far better in the second-half, dominating possession and creating chances. But this being Linfield, you always worried Dungannon would score every time they crossed the halfway line with the ball, simply because of the way Linfield have defended this season.
The crucial goal came when Billy Joe Burns ran onto a pass to set up Gary Browne. He didn’t intend to, Browne took the ball off him.
Soon after, Phil Lowry made it 3-1, before Mark McAllister made it 4-1 late on.
Once it went to 3-1, it was a matter of how many, as Linfield created chance after chance.
The title was gone long before throwing away a 2-0 lead against Ballymena last week, the goal for the League season now is to secure 3rd place and UEFA Cup football.
The really frustrating thing about last Saturday, was that Ballinamallard (4th) and Coleraine (5th) drew. The real winners last Saturday.
Though there is an 8 point gap to 4th, it’s a bit deceptive, as 6th place Glentoran can go 2 points behind Linfield if they win their 2 games in hand, as well as beating Linfield next Saturday.
That’s why last Saturday was such a major disappointment, and why next Saturday is so important.
Stangmore Park is one of the more photofriendly ground for amateur photography, even if the lack of natural daylight wasn’t helpful. Managed to even catch the linesman losing his bearings and being on the pitch while the ball was in play. Naughty naughty.