After ending October with three successive defeats at home, Linfield began November on the road, looking to get a win to keep in touch at the top of the table.
It was the first time in Warren Feeney’s short reign that there had been a succession of poor results.
Their opponents, Glenavon, could be used as some pre-match inspiration, having been in the bottom half a few weeks ago, now finding themselves in 2nd, one point off the top.
Mourneview Park has been a good ground for Linfield, with 10 wins in the last 11 domestic visits.
The match got off to a dramatic start before a ball was kicked, as Ross Glendinning was named in goal at the expense of Jonathan Tuffey, after another error in midweek. It was a match changing error too.
There’s only so many errors goalkeeper can make before getting dropped. Tuffey, had been long past that threshold.
If Glendinning was needing an early save to settle any nerves he had, he was in luck, as shots from Neill and Bradley forced him to make saves. They were saves you would expect him to make, but they still needed to be saved.
A chance for Kevin Braniff forced him to make his best save of the game, stopping the ball going in with enough power on his hand to put it out for a corner.
Those three saves would suggest it was one way traffic, it wasn’t, Linfield were also proving an attacking threat, with Morrow and Ward having shots saved by Glenavon keeper Alan Blayney.
Linfield played some nice passing football and good build-up play. Unlike the recent league games against Clitonville and Crusaders, you had the feeling that Linfield looked like scoring whenever they attacked.
There was the fear, that for all this good build-up play and nice football, what would happen if Linfield went 1-0 down? Would the heads drop?
Thankfully, those questions wouldn’t be asked, as Linfield went 1-0 up on 19 minutes when Sammy Morrow headed forward to Andrew Waterworth to fire home.
I’ve been critical of some of Sammy Morrow’s performances this season, but today was his best performance, doing the little things, holding the ball up and keeping attacks alive.
Linfield were the better team for the rest of the first-half, but just couldn’t get a second goal.
A sign of things to come as the half neared it’s end, as Glenavon’s Gary Hamilton, on the bench as a substitute, was sent-off for dissent.
Linfield didn’t get doing in the second-half, with Glenavon having a chance early on from a misplaced Jamie Mulgrew backpass, but the shot was saved by Glendinning.
Glenavon had the better of things without being dominant. Linfield were forced into some last ditch tackles and blocks, but there wasn’t a moment when you thought a goal was imminent.
With 15 minutes to go, Glenavon got an indirect free-kick in the penalty box. A dummy saw Linfield’s wall run out, and Glenavon scored while the wall was retreating back into position.
If the ball hit the Linfield wall rather than going in, I wonder would it have had to be retaken for encroachment?
It was clever play though, by Glenavon.
Listening to the radio, it was suggested that it should have been retaken, as the ball didn’t move when set up for Braniff to score.
Andy Todd was sent-off soon afterwards. A red card for each side, and both teams still had 11 men on the pitch.
Up to that point, the game had been competitive but fair. Now, it looked like it was going to boil over. It looked inevitable that there would be a red card on the pitch before the final whistle.
Given recent results and performances, there was a fear that this Linfield side would capitulate. In fact, it was the opposite, as the grievance spurred them on, putting some pressure on Glenavon, before being rewarded with 5 minutes to go, when Jimmy Callacher headed home from a free-kick. It was his first goal for Linfield, and what a time to get it.
After that, Glenavon didn’t look like getting an equaliser. The game didn’t just fizzle out though.
As injury time approached, Seanan Clucas (just on as a substitute) and Kevin Braniff tangled off the ball, causing both teams to square up to each other.
I only saw Clucas and Braniff in the corner of my eye, and TV cameras missed it as well, so I can’t comment.
I will admit to some inappropriate laughter, on watching the TV footage, of a sound mic picking up someone screaming “GET F****** INTAE THEM!!!”
When order (or what resembled order) was restored, the referee had his red card behind his back, for all the stadium to see, the question would be, who to?
The answer, was Clucas and Braniff.
Thankfully, Linfield were able to see the game out and record an important win.
Unfortunately, none of the other scores went in Linfield’s favour, with Cliftonville, Crusaders and Portadown all winning.
The law of averages would have suggested that one result would have went for Linfield today, the fixture list and realism (they were collectively facing the bottom three) would suggest not.
In the next three games, Linfield face the bottom two, while Cliftonville face Crusaders in the middle of the month. If Linfield can collect maximum points (Glentoran and Coleraine at home will be the toughest games) in November, the league table will be looking a lot better going into December.
Linfield were the better team and played some nice stuff today, but sometimes you need fight and spirit to win football matches. A wet day away from home is one such occasion, and when questions were asked, Linfield answered.