48 hours after Northern Ireland had beaten Faroe Islands in the European Championships, I was back at Windsor Park to see Linfield take on Institute.
There might have been a lot of differences between the two games, but there was one big similarity – the home side were looking for a win that would take them to the top of the table with their respective campaigns almost at the 1/3 stage.
A Monday night game against Institute isn’t going to attract the biggest crowd, but the low crowd I saw walking from the bridge made me suspicious that something was up. The fact that the North Stand was in darkness gave the game away.
As I enter the grounds of Windsor Park, supporters awaited to be admitted, as a floodlight failure had put the game in doubt.
Eventually, the problem was fixed, resulting in a delayed kick-off (by 30 minutes) of 8.15pm, which seemed ambitious, as supporters were eventually admitted at around 8pm.
The delayed kick-off was delayed further to about 8.20pm
Amazingly, in my football watching life, it wasn’t my first floodlight failure (Fulham v Manchester United in 2013), latest kick-off (When I went to see Barcelona, they kicked-off at 10pm) or even longest delay (Aston Villa v Leeds in Dublin in 2003 was delayed by over an hour as Villa’s plane was diverted to Shannon)
Curiously, unless my mind is playing tricks, Institute’s last league visit was also a delayed kick-off, but only by 15 minutes.
Linfield kicked-off eager to make up for lost time, going straight on the attack and putting Institute under pressure, winning a corner. A short routine between Ross Clarke and Aaron Burns saw Chris Hegarty head home a cross from close range.
It was no exaggeration to suggest Linfield could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up after 10 minutes, creating chances through neat passing moves, but just coming short.
The actual score, after 10 minutes, though was 1-1, as a quick Institute free-kick resulted in a cross to be headed home by Stephen O’Flynn.
A few weeks earlier, a quick free-kick played out left also resulted in a goal, for Crusaders. A worrying trend.
You got the feeling with Institute’s defence that they were always liable to gift Linfield a chance. Linfield did have chances, but couldn’t convert.
As the half neared the end, Linfield played some neat stuff but with no end product. If it was still 1-0, it wouldn’t have been that bad, but as it was 1-1, it was a frustrating evening.
In injury time, a quick free-kick from Sean Ward to Ivan Sproule saw Sproule pull it back for Andrew Waterworth to fire home, to see Linfield lead at the end of a half that lasted 50 minutes due to stoppages for two Institute injuries. It felt we were never going to get home before Tuesday morning.
Linfield made a slow start to the second-half, and were almost punished when Institute missed a glorious chance with a free header from six yards out.
The 3rd goal that Linfield craved came with 20 minutes to go, when Stephen Lowry fired home from the edge of the box, or so he thought, as the goal was disallowed by the linesman for offside (two players were following up) before the referee overruled him.
Institute manager Paul Kee was sent-off for dissent as the game threatened to boil over.
Interesting to note, that all three of Linfield’s goals came from free-kicks that had short passes rather than firing the ball into the box.
With the points secured, Warren Feeney looked to his bench, bringing on Sammy Morrow. It would be polite to say “It didn’t really happen for him”
Kirk Millar was brought on and looked lively. I’m a big fan of him and would have him starting, but to be fair, Ivan Sproule has improved a lot over the last couple of games.
Millar came on for Sproule. I’d have had him on for Clarke, purely as Clarke was on a yellow card tightrope, which thankfully, he didn’t fall off.
One final sub, was Seanan Clucas. I’d have brought on Jamie Mulgrew to give him game time. That side, Clucas, has hardly had much game time this season.
Having struggled to score but keep clean sheets, it has now reversed for Linfield, with 0 clean sheets in 5 league games, but 11 goals scored in the last 4.
Despite that last statistic, you get the feeling Linfield could still be more deadly up front.
Thankfully, players in defence and midfield have done their bit for the goalscoring cause.
As the final whistle blew, supporters were treated to The Smiths on the tannoy – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. Somebody had a sense of humour.
Of all The Smiths songs to sum up a game, rather that than Panic or Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.
There’s a long time to go before a certain Queen song gets blasted out over the tannoys.
You get the feeling there’s a big performance to come from this team. Saturday would be a good start.