Double blog time. Didn’t have the time to blog about the Crusaders game in midweek, then left it too late for it to be a standalone blog.
Left Windsor Park frustrated with the draw, for a number of reasons. Obviously the result, combined with Cliftonville’s win, meaning the defecit was reduced to 1 point. It maybe might not have felt so bad if Linfield had already played and won their game in hand and led by 4.
Even more frustrating was the manner of the draw, in the lead, looking comfortable, then a shocking goalkeeping error in first-half stoppage time. The half-time whistle blew as soon as the game restarted.
Even worse, Crusaders were there for the taking, and we didn’t take them. Even worse, Ivan Sproule wasn’t utilised properly. He’s a pace player who creates opportunities. It is so glaringly obvious.
So, today, I headed to Ballymena, hoping that Linfield could get back into winning ways.
There was a familiar face in the opposition in the shape of Jim Ervin, who recently moved to Ballymena. A great servant to Linfield, sadly the time was right for him to be moved on. I’m please for him that he’s got a move to a top flight club, and at 28, is young enough to still be playing at that level for a few more years.
It’s a ground we’ll have at least one more visit to this season, for the County Antrim Shield Final. A lot can happen between now and early March, but if the game was being played next week, I wouldn’t bother. I’ll wait and see how I feel at the time.
Ballymena started the game well and had the better of things, without any clear opportunities, though Jonathan Tuffey was forced into a top class close range save from Darren Boyce.
In the second-half of the first-half, Linfield came more into it, creating more opportunities, the best of which came when Philip Lowry shot wide, albeit from a wide position in the penalty area.
As it happened, Ballymena scored when Linfield were having their best period of play, a shot well saved by Tuffey which fell for Alan Teggart to fire home from the edge of the box.
Frustrating, especially that Linfield only turned up from 25 minutes onwards.
The second-half began with Linfield going for it but being met by Ballymena resistance.
A couple of minutes into the second-half, the momentum changed, when Ballymena’s Tony Kane was sent-off for a second yellow card.
However, given Linfield’s inability to break down ten men sides Glentoran (albeit, it was 10 v 10) and Crusaders (twice), the win was far from guaranteed.
You got the feeling, Linfield needed a goal within 15 minutes. With each passing minute, Ballymena’s resistance would get stronger and stronger.
The goal came, Philip Lowry header from an Andrew Waterworth cross, on 61 minutes. Now, the momentum had truly swung in Linfield’s favour.
The goal underline what Waterworth has brought to Linfield this season. It’s not just his goals, it’s the fact he makes things happen. He’s the sort of player who could go five games without a goal without anyone noticing.
Linfield rammed up the pressure, and were rewarded five minutes later when a Michael Gault free-kick fell to Jamie Mulgrew, who fired home.
And after that, Linfield still attack, but couldn’t get a 3rd goal. Despite the fact that Ballymena’s attcking threat was mostly nullified, 2-1 is still a slender lead with too much margin for error.
Ballymena had their moments towards the end of the game, but Linfield held firm throughout the five minutes on injury time, ironically due to Ballymena’s ridiculous timewasting when the score was 1-0.
Shouldn’t really complain about the correct amount of injury time being awarded, even though Ballymena players made a mug out of the ref the whole game with the amount of time they took at set pieces, especially goal kicks.
More of a bonus, was Cliftonville and Crusaders dropping points today, meaning Linfield are now 4 points clear with a game in hand.
In the context of two games, we’ve gained a point and are two games closer to the end of the season. Got to be happy with that.
With Cliftonville and Crusaders not playing in the league next weekend, getting a win at home to Ards next week becomes so important, in order to get our biggest lead of the season, at such a vital stage.
I’d remarked to a friend at Warrenpoint that the run of Glenavon-Warrenpoint-Crusaders-Ballymena-Ards-Cliftonville at the start of 2014 would define the season. A return of 4 wins and 2 draws at least would set Linfield up for the run-in in Spring.
As it stands, Linfield are on course for that.
The key game, is at Solitude on 1st February. Going to that game (getting my ticket at the Ards game) mainly as i’ll be in London the weekend after and would be going three weeks without a game. Hopefully, we’ll turn up and put in a performance.
If we beat Ards, we’ll go into that with a massive lead, and a chance to kill off Cliftonville’s title defence. The same situation as the game in November.
Hopefully, Linfield will right the wrong of the non performance that day, and right the wrong of the Gibson Cup not being at Windsor Park.
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