CRUSADERS 2-2 LINFIELD 29.9.2014

Just over 48 hours after departing Fermanagh, it was another road trip for Linfield, though not as far, to North Belfast, for a top of the table clash with Crusaders in a rearranged game, postponed a few weeks back due to international call-ups.

A win for either side would have sent out a statement of intent, as we are one matchday away from everybody playing each other. Crusaders could have went three points clear, and four ahead of Linfield and six clear of Cliftonville.

For Linfield, the prize on offer was to go top for the first time this season.

There wasn’t much in the way of early chances. Jonathan Tuffey was forced into a Schmeichel style starfish save, though it wasn’t a clear strike, while Ross Clarke went on a Maradona-esque run before being dispossessed as he entered the Crusaders penalty area.

Midway through the first-half, Crusaders took the lead. It was a poor goal for Linfield to concede. A quick Crusaders free-kick went out left, Linfield players not being quick to react to stop the cross.

Even then, Jordan Owens shouldn’t have been able to win the header to set up Paul Heatley. It was a good finish though.

For the next few minutes, Linfield looked shaky. It looked like being a repeat of other bad performances against Crusaders in recent years.

Bad habits started to creep in. Tackles were lapped, and long passes were played straight to Colin Coates head.

Thankfully, Linfield got a response within minutes, when Andrew Waterworth finished from close range after an Aaron Burns shot fell his way. Crusaders advantage quickly wiped out.

Soon after, Crusaders went back in front, as Sean Ward was beaten to the ball by Gavin Whyte, who ran though and fired past Tuffey.

Though Ward wasn’t entirely blameless in the episode, big questions once again surround Jonathan Tuffey.

I’m not one for scapegoating, but he cost six points last season (v Crusaders, Ards, Portadown at home) and had some ropey moments at Dungannon already this season. It wasn’t just the points cost, it was the momentum lost.

With Crusaders conceding at least 2 in 6 of their 9 games going to this, the game wasn’t over for Linfield, who could easily have been facing 10 men after Declan Caddell was booked for an incident with Aaron Burns, and elbowed the same player in the early moments.

Linfield started the second-half strong and had an Andrew Waterworth goal ruled out for offside. It only galvanised the Linfield support, situated in the Shore Road End the side was attacking.

Soon after, the equaliser came, when a clearance hit Michael Carvill and went in. A lucky goal, but you make your own luck. Carvill went into the penalty area to get on the end of a cross, and got rewarded, albeit in unorthodox fashion.

For a period after that, Linfield got on top and looked like taking the lead for the first time, before the game levelled out.

As the game entered the final stages, Paul “Not that kind of player” Heatley was lucky to avoid a second yellow card for a foul on Sean Ward. If he wasn’t already booked, he would have been booked.

In short, the referee bottled it.

As the game went into injury time, Crusaders had a late flurry, mostly from free-kicks and corners stupidly conceded by Linfield.

As each dead ball was being lined up, I had a horrible vision of a self inflicted 3-2 defeat. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Obviously, a win would have been great, but a draw isn’t the worst result, as it seed Linfield one point off the top, having almost played everybody.

Having led twice and missed the chance to go three points clear at the top, and further away from Linfield and Cliftonville, it’s Crusaders who will be ruing the result more.

The only disappointment from last night, was a lack of subs. In my own opinion, Mulgrew for Burns and/or Millar for Clarke could have injected some energy in the final stages that could have seen Linfield just get over the line.

Currently 4th, but level with 2 other teams, Saturday offers a chance for Linfield to blast through some of the early season traffic, as 3rd place Ballymena United come to Windsor Park.

A win is essential, especially with Crusaders playing Cliftonville. Whatever the result, one (hopefully both) of our rivals will be dropping points. Even more important with everybody else playing before Linfield face Institute in a rearranged Monday night game.

Then the fun begins – Cliftonville, Crusaders, Glenavon and Glentoran in the five games after that. Some big games to look forward to. Time to stand up to the challenge.

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BALLINAMALLARD UNITED 1-3 LINFIELD 27.9.2014

After getting nice and comfy in the North Stand at Windsor Park, it was a road trip to Fermanagh for Linfield, as they looked to recover some momentum lost by last week’s defeat to Glenavon.

It wasn’t the most exciting of games, but that was no bad thing. When you’re facing a side that started the day second bottom, the last thing you want is excitement. You just want to get the win, and wrapped up as soon as possible.

In truth, this game was won inside the first 15 minutes as Linfield raced into a 2-0 lead with goals from Lowry (his first for the club) and Burns.

What was pleasing was that the first time in a while, Linfield looked like scoring every time they attacked.

Ross Clarke, back in the starting line-up, was superb, creating chance after chance. I’m a big fan of his, but he was shocking against Ballyclare, and it’s great to see him back in the team and back in form.

The ever frustrating Ivan Sproule played well too, creating chances and causing problems for Ballinamallard.

Peter Thompson and Andrew Waterworth, who’ve rarely played together, linked up well, but couldn’t get the goal they deserved.

Watching Linfield, one of the most nervous situations to be in is 2-0 up, especially away from home, when you always have that horrible feeling that the opposition will get two quickfire goals.

Though Ballinamallard had an early half-chance in the second-half, another goal from Aaron Burns put the game beyond doubt.

At 3-0, that was the cue to make some substitutions with a game against Crusaders coming up on Monday night, a rest for Andrew Waterworth, and a chance to give Jamie Mulgrew some minutes as he returns from injury.

The only disappointment was a late consolation goal for Ballinamallard. I like clean sheets, and runs of clean sheets, and it ruined a possible run of 5 clean sheets in 6 games.

A bonus from this game was results elsewhere, with Glenavon, Portadown, Cliftonville and Ballymena all dropping points. Just a pity Institute couldn’t have got something at Seaview on Friday night.

All the attention now is on Seaview, and the clash against Crusaders, where a win will send Linfield top for the first time this season.

If that happens, it won’t automatically see Linfield declared champions, just as last week’s defeat to Glenavon didn’t see Linfield condemned to a season of being also-rans.

It’s early days, but there have been positive signs (and to balance it out, some not so positive signs either)

But tomorrow is a crucial game for both clubs, as a win will send a statement of intent.

Just imagine how demoralising it will be for the rest of the league to see Linfield go top as we approach the stage of the season when everybody is playing each other for the second time.

Especially with Linfield having a run of home games until the end of 2014.

To end, some self promotion, one of my photos from the game against AIK was featured in a photo gallery on The Guardian’s website, titled “This Is My Football Team”

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 26.9.2014

1. Rae Morris – Closer
2. William Shatner – Bohemian Rhapsody
3. The Charlatans – Talking In Tones
4. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology
5. Johnny Marr – Easy Money

This week, saw Bruce Springsteen celebrate his 65th birthday. As this blog loves using any birthday or topical event as an excuse to do a chart, how about a Springsteen Top Five?

FIVE SONGS BY BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

1. Badlands
2. We Take Care Of Our Own
3. Waitin On A Sunny Day
4. Dancing In The Dark
5. Human Touch

50 YEARS OF TOP OF THE POPS : SEP 19 – SEP 25

Our first birthday this week, is Bill Medley, 74 this week.

I once performed karaoke and sang “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” then mixed into “Time Of My Life” …….. it was a Bill Medley Medley.

When Mrs Creme gave birth to a boy, she laughed out loud so much, she called him Lol. Not really, she called him Lawrence and he just shortened his name.

Looks like you’re going to Get Lucky this week, as it’s Nile Rodgers birthday.

Jarvis Cocker wants to meet up in the Year 2000. There’s someone who appears later this week who might be able to help him.

Dan Gillespie-Sales from The Feeling turned 35 this week.

THIS!!!!! is the definitive version of “Here I Go Again”

Getting ready to Rawwkkkk!!! now

Joan Jett loves Rock n Roll.

This week just rocks ……. ultimate rawwkkkk gawwwdddd …… Chesney Hawkes.

Incidentally, i’ve checked the UK Census. Chesney Hawkes is indeed, the one and only Chesney Hawkes. Chesney Hawkes faded into obscurity after this song, but his mole appeared in the Austin Powers movie “Goldmember”

Chesney Hawkes dad was in The Tremeloes, as was Brian Poole, who is Alisha’s Attic’s dad.

Ironically, Alisha’s Attic live in Alicia Keys attic.

Now that we’re talking about 60s pop stars, Gerry Marsden owns a Chinese restaurant in Liverpool called You’ll Never Wok Alone.

Will Smith’s auntie and uncle in Bel Air let him out to do TOTP in 1998.

Andy Williams died two years ago this week. He’s a Ska tribute.

The Boss is now officially an OAP, but still very much in charge.

But you may be surprised by the first Springsteen song performed on the show.

(WARNING: Clip contains Jimmy Savile)

And finally, Billie Piper turned 32 this week. Let’s take a trip in the Pop Tardis to when she was a pop star (see what I did there?)

But that wasn’t her first TV appearance ……. that came in an ad campaign for Smash Hits.

NORTH STREET ART (AKA – CULTURE NIGHT AFTERMATH)

As traditional as Culture Night has now become, a spin-off from this has been a trip to North Street on the Sunday afterwards to see the end result of the Street Art that was painted on the night.

A combination of it being too dark, too crowded, and works not yet finished mean I usually wait until the Sunday to document the night’s results.

It’s easy to forget that North Street actually stretches to Smithfield, as there was also art in that part of the street, which I missed on Friday night, focusing on what is outside Aether and Echo.

All the fun wasn’t exclusive to North Street, as there were also pieces on William Street, Union Street and Talbot Street.

Enjoy

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2013 Aftermath

2012 Aftermath

LINFIELD 0-1 GLENAVON 20.9.2014

It was a battle of the Player-Managers at Windsor Park today as Linfield faced Glenavon, though Linfield’s Warren Feeney ruined that narrative by not naming himself in the matchday squad (Gary Hamilton was a substitute for Glenavon), as Linfield began with the same team that scraped home against Warrenpoint Town seven days earlier.

With both teams kicking off as two of four level on points at the top of the league, this represented a great opportunity for 4th placed Linfield to try and blast through some of the traffic at the top of the league.

The game started with neither side really on top, but Glenavon looked more lively when on the attack.

Linfield had their moments as well though, but most of the attacks usually ended with a misplaced pass or an overhit cross.

Having had problems in front of goal all season so far, today was no different.

Infuriatingly, Sammy Morrow wasted two of the better chances, by waiting for the ball to go to him, instead of going to the ball, allowing Glenavon’s defenders the opportunity to make a block or clearance.

It seemed so predictable, playing the ball out wide to get a cross in, Glenavon were able to defend them as they knew what was coming.

That said, there were some good crosses. The problem was, there was nobody in the box or running into the box, which turned them into bad crosses.

It seemed to sum up Linfield’s attacking play. You just never thought they were going to score at any point today.

When it looked like going into half-time 0-0, Glenavon got the all important goal from Kevin Braniff, from a soft free-kick after a shot hit a defender’s hand.

At half-time, Callacher and Morrow were replaced by Waterworth and Miller. Warren Feeney certainly wasn’t waiting to see how the second-half panned out before making changes.

Linfield improved in the early moments of the second-half, but it was Glenavon who had the best opportunity when Andy McGrory fired wide from inside the penalty area, unmarked as well. It’s the sort of chance teams miss when they lose 2-1. I was hoping it would be the case.

Glenavon being 1-0 up against Linfield hasn’t been a new phenomenon in recent years, they’ve scored 1st in 5 of the last 7 meetings, but only got 1 point in all of them games. Today, you feared it would be different with this Glenavon team.

Kirk Millar was again Linfield’s focal point, but like in the first-half, it just wasn’t happening for Linfield. In truth, Linfield weren’t making it happen for themselves.

Peter Thompson went down after a challenge by Alan Blayney soon after coming on. It looked like a penalty to me, the ref only gave a corner.

With 20 minutes to go, Linfield got a boost when Glenavon went down to ten men after Kirs Lindsay received a second yellow for a foul on Ivan Sproule.

After a succession of corners, you had a feeling if Linfield scored, they could push on and win the game. Just getting that 1st goal proved to be a problem.

As the game wore on, it was Glenavon on the counter-attack who looked most likely to score, showing Linfield how to use the ball, keeping hold of it in the final moments of the game and not giving Linfield a sniff.

After two successive Saturdays were results went in our favour, other scores went against Linfield today, with wins for Portadown, Ballymena and Crusaders.Though Linfield currently lie 6th, a win in their game in hand will see them go level at the top of the league (unless we win it 9-0, then we’ll go top)

The situation isn’t as bad as the doomsayers will make out, but a vast improvement is needed. One improvement, is the ratio of putting the ball in the back of the net

There was some good pieces of build-up play, but the end product was often missing.

The only time Linfield looked like scoring was when an Andrew Waterworth shot was saved by Alan Blayney, and it squeezed wide, when most around me thought it was going in.

It is important for Linfield that Waterworth returns to fitness and form.

Next up, is a trip to Ballinamallard, and a Monday night game at Crusaders, before a run of 12 out of 15 games at home, taking us up to the end of 2014. Better start turning Windsor Park into a fortress.

One of those games, against Institute, originally scheduled for 11th October, was postponed due to Northern Ireland playing at home that day (still think both games could have been played that day) has been arranged for Monday 13th October.

Very happy about this, as we’re not a game behind at the stage of the season when the league table is still taking shape.

Plus, I was worried it would be played on the Tuesday, when i’m at a concert. George Ezra, since you ask.

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CULTURE NIGHT BELFAST 2014

A highlight of the year, I headed to Belfast City Centre to take in Culture Night. To give an idea of how much the event has grown in recent years, was the lack of parking spaces (I’d had no bother in recent years, arriving at the same time) getting a parking space in the City Centre.

Parking problems defeated, I headed straight to North Street. Why? It’s my favourite part of the night, as there is always Street Art done as part of the event, so I headed to check that out.

Got some photos of the work in progress, there will be a seperate blog for that over the weekend.

As I headed that way, there was a street parade going on, with free chalk being handed out, and people writing messages on the ground.

From there, I headed to University of Ulster, where there was gorilla knitting done outside it, with many looking and admiring.

Back towards North Street to watch a bit of Street Countdown, a popular feature of Culture Night, before watching another parade, then calling in to have a look at Stand Arts Centre, based on the site of a former bank.

You see all sorts of wonderful things on Culture Night. There was Street Chess, and a performance by Fire Artists outside University of Ulster, and Drummers on Stilts.

As ever, it was a great night, and i’m already looking forward to 2015.

I keep saying it every year, but instead of heading down just after 7, I might just make a day of it.

Photo Album

Culture Night 2013

North Street Art 2013

Culture Night 2012

North Street Art 2012

50 YEARS OF TOP OF THE POPS : SEP 12 – SEP 18

We begin this week with Maria Mulduar’s 71st birthday, and a Brand New Heavies cover of her, a song, not about Noel or Liam Gallagher.

James Bourne of Busted, remember them? He turns 30 this week.

Busted’s 7th album is rather good.

You’ve been waiting all year for this …… a bit of A-Ha.

You may be amused to hear there’s a town in Norway called Horten. It’s unknown if it has a market, or if Morten Harket has ever been to Horten Market.

Cast. They’re Alright. La.

And while we’re on a 90s theme …..

Sad anniversary time, it’s 37 years since Marc Bolan died.

Joanne Catherall celebrated a birthday this week. Contrary to popular belief, she never worked as a waitress in a coktail bar.

And finally, a Belfast girl turned 30 this week. She has spent a lot of those 30 years researching how many bicycles there are in Beijing.

LINFIELD 1-0 WARRENPOINT TOWN 13.9.2014

I enjoy travelling to away matches, but sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing. It was great to be back at Windsor Park, as Linfield hosted Warrenpoint Town in their, belated, first home game of the season.

Playing away from home didn’t prove to be too much of a disadvantage, as Linfield kicked-off three points off the top, and with a game in home. That game, of course, away from home.

With the redevelopment of Windsor Park taking place, alternative arrangements were made for Linfield fans to be housed in the North Stand, which was previously for away fans exclusively.

The last time I watched a match in the Upper Deck of the North Stand, Warren Feeney (Northern Ireland v Portugal in 2005) scored. That wouldn’t be happening today, as he was suited, rather than booted.

There were seats where the dugouts were, but no roof. Wouldn’t want to be a sub on a wet day.

With boards covering where the South and Railway Stands used to be, hopefully the club are working to secure advertising (there was some advertising behind the goal) for those areas, especially with the camera position now in the North Stand, giving brands prime position on TV coverage.

No turnstiles to access for supporters from Donegall Avenue, supporters without Season Tickets bought a ticket from a Ticket Office beside the North Stand entrance, and supporters walked through. It seemed to work quite well from what I could see.

Not everything went according to plan, as kick-off was delayed by a couple of minutes due to an issue with the sprinkler system it seemed. Hopefully, that would be the only thing on the pitch that went wrong.

The first-half, was mostly attack v defence, with Linfield doing most of the attacking, with Warrenpoint hoping to get lucky with a counter-attack or a set piece.

Linfield stepped it up a gear, getting closer and closer. Curiously, most of the crosses that came in were low, looking for someone to strike, rather than head, the ball home.

Nobody was able to do that, with shots being blocked, or players just not able to get into the box in time. Ironically, it was a cross into the air which brought about the decisive goal, heading home from an Ivan Sproule cross.

At half-time, I had a look at the temporary shop and bar. It’s not a bad set-up, but it felt strange there being no TVs to check half-time scores from England, or to watch Final Score after the game. Some habit, die hard.

Linfield just couldn’t get the 2nd goal that would have killed the game. Warrenpoint showed more attacking intent, but never looked like doing anything of note until 20 minutes from time when the managed to cut through Linfield, but the shot was straight at Jonathan Tuffey when he really should have scored.

It should have acted as a wake-up call and warning to Linfield, but it didn’t

Linfield had shots on goal and situations, but nothing where you thought a 2nd goal was inevitable. Once again, the lack of goals is a concern. Linfield currently have the 3rd worst scoring record, but the best defensive record.

Today was Linfield’s 3rd successive clean sheet, last achieved in December 2011. A welcome development.

With the final minutes being more nervous due to only being 1-0 up, the need to hang on became even more important with scores from other games filtering through, all in Linfield’s favour.

Portadown were the only team above Linfield to win, and that was against the league leaders. Linfield now find themselves sitting in 4th, level on points with Portadown, Glenavon and Ballymena. Importantly, Linfield have a game in hand.

Getting a good start was important, for the new manager, and to keep in touch due to having two games postponed due to internationals in the opening months of the season.

The first of those games, against Crusaders, has been arranged for 29th September, a Monday. Not ideal, playing on the Saturday before, but Crusaders are in the same situation

Before that, Glenavon at home, a must win, and a chance to break away from the traffic at the top.

You may have noticed this week, a story in the Belfast Telegraph, suggesting that Windsor Park could be bidding for the 2017 European Super Cup Final.

I was in Cardiff for this year’s final, and it was a fantastic. To add a tenuous Linfield link, Warren Feeney was on my flight home.

It would be great if it came to Belfast, but I can’t see it unfortunately. We can hope.

Anyway, Glenavon at home next week, where a much improved performance will be required.

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