The 11th game of the season, and the point when everybody has played each other, a perfect opportunity to assess how things have gone so far, as 3rd placed Ballymena travelled to Windsor Park to take on Linfield, both teams level on points, 1 behind morning leaders Crusaders.
Linfield had the first real chance of the game when a soft Andrew Waterworth shot was cleared off the line after a scramble, but it was Ballymena who took the lead, with a Johnny Taylor header inside the first ten minutes.
With the defeat to Glenavon still a recent memory, you started to fear that this season could be defined by poor home form.
After that goal, Linfield really struggled when attacking, never really looking like scoring in open play. It took a corner for the equaliser to come, when Chris Hegarty headed home after Ballymena’s keeper Dwayne Nelson went to claim the ball and got nowhere near it.
Linfield, now had their tails up, having cancelled out Ballymena’s advantage, and managed to make the most of it, taking the lead, with another Chris Hegarty header, after a Niall Quinn free-kick hit the bar, then bounced in off his head.
You could say it was a lucky goal, but if you get into scoring positions to chase up in case there’s a rebound, you make your own luck.
As the half neared it’s end, Aaron Burns was played in on the edge of the box into a great position for a low cross into the “Corridor of uncertainty”
Thankfully, he ignored my advice, went past his opponent, and fired into the back of the net.
So, 3-1 at half-time, looking like a nice routine win in the sunshine.
When you’re 2 goals up at half-time, the important thing is to start the second-half strong and don’t the opposition a sniff at getting a goal back.
Linfield did that, and had a few chances, most notably Ivan Sproule firing over in the first minute of the half.
Unfortunately, the 4th goal didn’t come, and Ballymena came more into it, having a few situations where Chris Hegarty was being forced to make last ditch interceptions.
There is only so many times you can get away with that, and Ballymena got back into the game when Johnny Taylor headed home.
Now, Linfield looked nervous. Worst thing was, a lot of it was self inflicted. The corner for Taylor’s second goal came after Burns and Lowry lost possession when a simple pass would have done, and the resultant shot from Ballymena forced a corner.
Too many times, Linfield gave away cheap possession, giving Ballymena more opportunities top get forward. Most of it, was caused by misplaced ambitious passes, when a simple one would have done.
If it wasn’t possession being given away, it was poor communication at the back. conceding corners, or heading the ball back into open play, when it could have been left for the goalkeeper, or allowed to go out for a goal kick.
As each minute passed, the game was going to go one of two ways – (a) Linfield were going to just about hold on. Not win, just hold on (b) It was going to be a repeat of the Ards game in January, with the opposition going level too late to go 4-3 up.
Like in the Ards game, there was no activity regarding substitutions, when fresh blood was needed. Eventually, that did happen, in the shape of Kirk Millar and Jamie Mulgrew.
Thankfully, Linfield just about saw the game out, which had a curious end to it, with Warren Feeney (in suit, not named in the 16 today) being sent off, having to make the journey from what was the South Stand, to the dressing rooms at the corner of The Kop and North Stand.
Would it be cruel to say it’s the fastest he’s moved all season? (Just getting in there first before someone else says it)
So, played everybody one, and joint top of the league. Lots of positives, lots of negatives.
A win was particularly important with Linfield not playing next Saturday, giving Portadown to go clear in front.
That’s 2 home wins out of 3, hopefully more to come, as we need to make Windsor Park a fortress over the coming months, especially with Cliftonville, Crusaders and Glentoran all visiting in the next six weeks.