After two wins in a row after opening day defeat, Linfield aimed to capitalise on this momentum as they travelled to newly promoted Institute.
It was my first visit to the stadium, and it was very impressive, catering to people’s needs. Seats if you want to sit, terraces if you want to stand, no segregation, and a tuck shop under the stand if you need refreshments.
The first-half, was all Linfield, with many chances on goal. The only one that was converted, was by Ivan Sproule, facing his former club for the first time since leaving them for Hibernian in 2005.
At that point, it was hard to see anything other than a comfortable Linfield win.
To use a cliche, it was “A game of two halves” as Institute gave Linfield an early warning, when they had a goal disallowed for offside, that this game was far from over.
Having been a spectator in the first-half, Jonathan Tuffey was now having saves to make. With Linfield continuing to be defensively fragile, Institute were continuing to create chances to the point that a goal was inevitible.
Despite that, Linfield had their chances to kill the game, most notably a Jimmy Callacher header from a free-kick. No matter how well Institute played, if it had went to 2-0, it would have been game over.
With five minutes to go, Institute got a deserved equaliser when a free-kick into the box was headed in by Paddy McLaughlin. Defence and keeper in no man’s land
Even though it was a deserved point for Institute, it was two points dropped. At 1-0 up with five minutes to go, Linfield should have had enough to see the game out.
There was a fear that when Institute did score, it would be too late for Linfield to react and get a winner, and so it proved, though Mark Haughey had a goal disallowed for offside.
Thankfully, both Cliftonville and Crusaders dropped points, so the draw wasn’t as catastrophic as it should have been, it’s still two points dropped, as a win would have seen us go 2nd, only 1 point off the top.
Up next, is Ballyclare in the League Cup, the start of a busy run of games over the next two weeks. There’s a break on the International Weekend in September with the Crusaders game postponed due to call-ups.
As a result of falling a game behind so early in the season, it’s important to keep winning to keep close to the top. It’s better to have the points on board than games in hand.
Even more important, with the return game against Institute being postponed, due to it being on the same day as Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands (Honestly, we could play Institute with a lunchtime kick-off), we’ll be two games behind in mid October.
I was looking forward to the Crusaders game in September, but the postponement is the right decision as Linfield would be going into the game without Aaron Burns and Kirk Millar.
Millar, making his first start, was the go to guy for all Linfield’s attacks, who made everything happen, showing a creativity that Linfield have lacked in recent years.
Crusaders fans can complain about the postponement, but Linfield should be acting in the interests of Linfield and nobody else, and it’s in Linfield’s interest to play as many games with Millar and Burns available.