I was Ballymena bound for the first time in almost two years (January 2012 to be precise) to see Linfield take on Ballymena United.
Last week’s 0-0 draw at home to Crusaders ended a winning run, but turned out to be a point gained as other results went in our favour, meaning we turned up at Ballymena four points clear.
Around this time last year, Cliftonville were only a couple of points clear of a crowded pack, then went on a winning run in October/November/December which laid the foundations for their title win. Without being arrogant, the current run of fixtures presents a great opportunity to get a winning run going.
After just one minute, Linfield went on the attack, well defended by Ballymena, which saw Billy Joe Burns trying a speculative long range shot, easily saved by Dwayne Nelson …….. or so he thought.
Nelson fumbled the ball, not into the penalty area or the goal, but just enough to give Matthew Tipton a sniff at goal, which he took.
A potentially tricky away game (Linfield lost 2-0 there on their last league visit) was off to a great start. In challenging for the ball, Nelson got injured and required lengthy treatement.
It was bad enough for the players to be sat idle so soon in the game, but to add insult to injury, the heavens opened, bringing about a monsoon, forcing both teams into an unscheduled training session, passing the ball to each other, just to keep warm an active.
Eventually, the game restarted, and Ballymena had chances, a glaring one being fired over the bar from six yards. It was a miss they would soon regret, as Andrew Waterworth raced through to make it 2-0.
For the rest of the first-half, it was all Linfield, Niall Quinn hitting the angle of post and bar from a free-kick.
The second-half kicked-off with Linfield on course for a routine win ….. or so we thought.
The most important thing about being 2-0 up at half-time is to be wary of the opposition being fired up, and how important it is not to concede an early goal.
Yep, Linfield did just that. For the next 10-15 minutes, Ballymena were in control, having possession in Linfield’s half and forcing Johnny Tuffey into saves.
Thankfully, Linfield rode the storm, taking back control of the game, and going 3-1 after a Billy Joe Burns goal from a Andrew Waterworth cross. It’s not just his goals which are so important.
Soon after, Aaron Burns made it 4-1 to add a bit of gloss to the scoreline. In fact, there were plenty of other chances not taken.
Talking of which, Linfield will need to start racking up some big wins as they have the same Goal Difference as Crusaders, despite being four points clear of them, and less than Portadown, though that was aided by the freak result against Ballinamallard. It’s always nice to have an insurance policy like that.
Glenavon, Crusaders and Portadown won this weekend, so no points have been gained, but the draw between Glentoran and Cliftonville was a great result, as the lead over both clubs has been extended to 6 (Cliftonville) and 7 (Glentoran) respectively.
Next Saturday, Portadown play Crusaders, meaning that at least one of our rivals will drop points, which makes victory over Ards at Windsor Park so important.
The day, was best summed up by the weather. Linfield had to literally and metaphorically ride the storm, and when they did, the game ended literally and metaphorically with sunshine.