It was the biggest day of the season in the Irish League, Boxing Day, when all the derby rivals go head to head. It was coincidental, that even without the derby tags, the fixture list threw up games with teams close to each other in the table, or two in-form teams going head to head.
For Linfield, it would be Glentoran of course. A Glentoran side who had just secured a late win over Champions Cliftonville, and had won four of their last five games.
Stephen Lowry made a statement of intent just two seconds into the game, flying into the tackle. It’s what you have to do on a day like this.
Linfield suffered a pre-match blow with the absence of Aaron Burns through injury, the winning goalscorer on Boxing Day last year, and Linfield’s top scorer this season. Kirk Miller came in for him. He had plenty of runs at Glentoran’s defence, but it just didn’t happen for him.
He wasn’t the only Linfield player for whom it just didn’t happen in an attacking sense. The best moments in the first-half came from inswinging free-kicks.
Glentoran had the first attempts on goal in the game, shots that went wide though. Their best moment saw Ross Glendinning forced into a save from a header.
Linfield scored an advantage of sorts at kick-off, with Glentoran attacking their fans based in The Kop in the first-half rather than the second.
Those fans in The Kop would be celebrating on 25 minutes, when Stephen Gordon finished after a cross. Glentoran had struck when they were enjoying a period on top.
Linfield didn’t have much of a response, struggling to break down Glentoran. There were no real opportunities.
With the end of the half approaching, Linfield struck when Sammy Morrow fired home after a pass from Lowry. It was his third goal in four games. That said, we’ll need another forward player in the January Transfer Window, as the bench was striker free, and we’ll need cover if him or Andrew Waterworth get injured.
When the ball hit the back of the net, I immediately thought of the Cliftonville game in October, but with roles reversed. Cliftonville had been poor that day, but got an equaliser just before half-time and used it as a springboard for victory. Linfield were hoping to do that today.
Linfield started the second-half better, but couldn’t get a lead. Frustrated by Glentoran’s defence. There were no clear opportunities though.
Glentoran didn’t have any clear opportunities either though.
The game, looked like it was drifting to a 1-1 draw. That was, until Ivan Sproule was played through on goal in a wide position.
As he ran through on goal, you just had a feeling he would score. He did. Unfortunately, he took his shirt off when celebrating, and got a second yellow card. I know it’s a passionate game, but he should be keeping his cool. It was a stupid thing to do.
Thankfully, Linfield learnt their lesson from their meeting with Glentoran last month, and didn’t down tools and encourage Glentoran to come at them. Glentoran’s only moment of note came just before injury time, when a shot flashed wide of the post.
Linfield were able to see the game out and secure a third successive Boxing Day win, for the first time since the fixture was resurrected in 1989.
From local issues to national issues, it strengthened Linfield’s position at the top of the league. Though they remain the same amount of points clear at kick-off (four), they moved six clear of Portadown and seven clear of Cliftonville due to other results.
A massive motiviation ahead of the New Year’s Day game at Seaview, knowing that victory will send them at least six clear, and go seven points clear of Crusaders.
With Cliftonville facing the bottom three next, it is important to keep racking up the points.
Talking of Cliftonville, we have a match against them to re-arrange due to their participation in the League Cup Final. I would be pushing for us to arrange it for the midweek before or after that League Cup Final.
We are now six days away from the opening of the January Transfer Window. The most immediate priority for Linfield is a striker. That might sound strange for a team that that has scored at least two goals in their last nine league games.
Once again, there ws no striker on the bench today. We just need an extra attacker to either partner Andrew Waterworth, or to be on the bench, to be able to bring on to add freshness late in the game, or to be thrown on if we are chasing a game. An extra body will be so important in the run-in if Waterworth and/or Morrow get injured or suspended.
For Linfield, 2014 is now over. With the Gibson Cup still not residing at Windsor Park, it was ultimately a year of failure.
It was a year of massive changes on and off the pitch. The changes off the pitch, the renovation of Windsor Park will bear fruit and be visible for all to see in 2015.
Hopefully, the major change on the pitch, a new manager (technically, that’s off the pitch, but he is a player/manager, so technically, it’s on the pitch) will have a visible and positive change as well.
After winning a top of the table clash, then the Big Two derby, it’s another top of the table clash. The big games keep coming. You wouldn’t want it any other way.