North Belfast was the focus of attention today as Linfield visited Seaview today while Cliftonville hosted Glentoran in the 35th matchday out of 38 in the Irish League season.
With Cliftonville only one point ahead, there was no margin for error, especially for Linfield.
Having been beaten for the 4th time this season by Cliftonville last time out, it was another North Belfast bogey team, having not beaten Crusaders (outright) in 5 meetings this season.
Linfield started off well, unusually attacking their own fans in the Shore Road end in the first-half.
Without dominating, Linfield had some good build-up play and some promising attacks. All it needed was a goal. The goal came on 4 minutes. Unfortunately, it was for Crusaders.
Crusaders won a free-kick within a shooting position, and Nathan Hanley fired home. I was at the other end of the pitch, and it looked poor for the goalkeeper to be beaten at the far post, where he was stood.
After that, Linfield looked shaky. Jordan Owens had a great chance to make it 2-0. Crusaders only had one tactic, to hoof it upfield. Sad thing is, it was effective.
Thankfully, Linfield got an equaliser on 15 minutes when Aaron Burns slotted home after being put through.
Normality restored. At this point, Cliftonville were being held 0-0 by Glentoran. In situations like this, it’s always important to get into the lead first.
Linfield managed to get that as the half was coming to a close, when the ball fell to Andrew Waterworth in the penalty. He had time and space, but not a lot. He had just enough to set himself up for a shot and fire past the keeper in a crowded penalty area.
The game appeared to turn further in Linfield’s favour when Paul Heatley was sent-off for kicking out at Michael Gault. If anyone thought it was going to be a stroll for Linfield, all you had to do was think back to last season’s trip to Seaview in December, when Linfield were 2-1 up against ten men and drew 2-2.
The rest of the half “Got a bit silly” as Crusaders had the better of it and the game threatened to boil over. Crusaders even had a goal disallowed. It looked like a wrong decision from where I was stood, but the ref got it right when I saw TV footage of it.
Linfield couldn’t wait for half-time. It took a while to come ……. there was five minutes of injury time in the first-half.
With heads cleared, Linfield came out for the second-half having a couple of chances, the most notable when Jamie Mulgrew fired over from the edge of the box.
Linfield couldn’t make it 3-1, which was needed so much, just to relax the atmosphere and relieve the tension. The next goal came for Crusaders, a Timmy Adamson header from a free-kick.
By this point, Cliftonville were 2-0 up against Glentoran, there was no margin for error.
Thankfully, the 5th goal of the game came for Linfield, when a Michael Gault run and cross (a brilliant cross at that) was convered from close range from Waterworth.
Thankfully, Linfield didn’t look like conceding the advantage again, against a Crusaders side who soon went down to nine men after the red card for Chris Morrow.
A 4th Linfield goal didn’t come, which would have made things easier. Thankfully, Linfield managed to keep possession, and keep it in good areas to deny Crusaders, though some of the “ole football” could have looked stupid if Crusaders equalised.
Three games to go. Same situation as at kick-off, got to win and hope.