After defeat to Cliftonville last week, Linfield were aiming to bounce back against Crusaders, who were also aiming to bounce back, after a defeat at home to Glenavon last weekend.
Crusaders had the better of the play without being dominant, having a few shots over the bar, and a few shots that Jonathan Tuffey was able to save easily (I know what you’re all thinking)
Linfield didn’t really offer much up front, having an Aaron Burns shot over the bar, and a Matthew Clarke shot on the stretch saved by Sean O’Neill.
Linfield were toothless up front, mainly due to lining up in the wrong shape, with Ross Clarke playing just behind Andrew Waterworth. Clarke was ineffective due to being played out of position.
Logically, it would have made a lot more sense to swap him and Ivan Sproule around. Eventually, Clarke was moved to right midfield in the second-half and was a lot more effective. By then, it was too late.
The game was won for Crusaders in a five minute spell in the second-half of the first-half, with a free-kick from Colin Coates, and a finish from Paul Heatley.
Heatley’s goal, was especially bad. A ball played out wide for Diarmuid O’Carroll should have been seen to safety by Chris Hegarty, even if he had to play it back to his goalkeeper.
Instead, he was beaten to the ball, to enable him to set up Paul Heatley to fire home.
Like last week, the heads dropped, players standing about looking for inspiration, and nobody showing leadership or taking the lead.
Again, the bad habits returned, playing Crusaders at their own game, with predictable results.
At least at 2-0 down at half-time, the players could get a chance to rectify the situation, rather than going 2-0 down in the second-half.
Action was swift, with Michael Carvill and Jamie Mulgrew (remember him?) joining the action. Andrew Waterworth had a partner up front, at least.
There wasn’t an instant response, but Linfield did gradually get more into the game and have more pressure. Just before the hour, the goal came from an Andrew Waterworth header.
The momentum, couldn’t be built upon though.
Crusaders, were lucky to have eleven men on the pitch with both Magowan (yellow card foul while on a yellow) and Coates (wreckless high foot) not even getting a card for their respective fouls.
Referees being gutless and useless is hardly something new. Today’s ref got made a mug of by Crusaders every time they got a throw or goal kick, walking to get the ball that went out, rather than the ball they were given.
To add insult to injury, there was only just over two and a half minutes of injury time. What an absolute farce.
Not that it would have made much of a difference, with Linfield running out of ideas and creativity.
Now represents a major test for this Linfield team. There have been bad results, but not two in a row. A lot of players need to step up in order to make sure if doesn’t become three or four.
The situation at the top of the table isn’t as bad as it should be for a team with four defeats, only three points off the top, with there still being congested traffic at the top of table. For the first time since the opening day, Linfield have a significant defecit from the top of the league.
Unfortunately, Linfield are at the tail end of this traffic jam. Any more results like today, and we might not be able to see the top of the league with our lights. If traffic analogies are your thing.
Next week, represents an opportunity for Linfield to overtake one of the sides above them, with a trip to Mourneview Park to face a Glenavon side who have won their last two games 4-1.
With Glenavon playing Portadown and Cliftonville in November, and Cliftonville playing Crusaders as well, teams above Linfield will drop points in November. Linfield need to get back to winning form to take advantage of this.
To get you optimistic, Linfield have won eight of their last nine league visits to Mourneview Park.
Just need to defend better, stop giving away soft goals, be more creative and attacking, and ruthless up front. This football lark is rather simple.
Meanwhile, a significant milestone in the redevelopment of Windsor Park happened this week, as steelwork for the Railway Stand was erected. Hopefully, we’ll not be experiencing the paradox of Windsor Park being built while Linfield’s season falls apart.
You can find slideshows of the progress here.