A busy run of Christmas/New Year games for Linfield ended with the visit to Coleraine, with Linfield looking to recover from Thursday’s defeat at Seaview which saw their lead at the top of the Irish League reduced to one point.
The game got off to a slow start, not a lot happening in either final third. Linfield were especially sluggish and tired, with a lot of passes going astray. Often the right idea, just not executed properly.
Most of Linfield’s attacking play came down the right, setting up their best moment of the half, when Aaron Burns header hit the post.
Towards the end of the first-half, Linfield had a lot of possession in the Coleraine half but no clear cut opportunities. There wasn’t a moment where you thought a Linfield goal was imminent.
Linfield needed to improve in the second-half if they were to get the three points, especially with Crusaders being comfortably ahead against Ballinamallard.
Ross Clarke came on at half-time and was involved in most of Linfield’s attack, starting out left, before moving right then finishing on the left.
Clarke’s running caused Coleraine problems, but Linfield couldn’t get that clear goalscoring chance.
Just before the hour, Clarke’s run on the right was fired goalwards by Ivan Sproule, before being finished by Andrew Waterworth.
As Linfield showed more attacking intent at the start of the second-half, so did Coleraine. It was one of those games where the first goal would be so crucial.
Having got a 1-0 lead, Linfield couldn’t get a second goal that would have killed the game.
Peter Thompson was introduced as a substitute, a long awaited return to action. Despite that, we still need one more striker in the Transfer Window.
There might have to be transfer action at the other end of the pitch, with Jimmy Callacher being stretchered off, adding to Mark Haughey’s injury at Seaview on Thursday.
As well as Peter Thompson, Sean Ward made a welcome return to action and had a good game, barring a moment of madness at the end – we’ll come to that later.
For all Linfield’s inability to score a second, Linfield were able to snuff out Coleraine’s attacking threat. Attacking through balls that needed a touch, dangerous crosses that needed cleared.
With Linfield’s lack of clean sheets, you always feared Coleraine would get one. Even more so when Linfield were unable to get any control on the ball when clearing it, often giving the ball back to Coleraine to attack again.
As the final moments approached, Coleraine got an attacking free-kick outside the penalty area for which Niall Quinn got booked. Nobody in the ground could see a foul.
It was one in a series of “Creative” decisions made by referee Raymond Crangle today. The free-kick hit the wall but reached a Coleraine player who headed wide.
Again, Linfield kept giving possession back to Coleraine. Parkhill found himself through on goal after a flick on. He had two options – to smash the ball in or lob the keeper. He tried to do both and ended up doing neither.
It looked as though Linfield were going to do just enough, when the clock struck 93 minutes, Sean Ward made a reckless tackle to give Coleraine a free-kick. There was no need to make the tackle, as Coleraine weren’t going anywhere and there was enough players back.
There was an inevitability about what was going to happen, and so it proved, as Neil McCafferty fired home. There was no time for Linfield to respond. Literally. The final whistle blew as soon as the ball hit the back of the net.
It was a pity that Raymond Crangle didn’t have a “Clive Thomas Moment” seconds earlier.
Two points dropped, especially when you look at other results today, and puts a different slant on things when you assess the four games over Christmas.
If it had stayed 1-0, you would have looked at, despite being still only 1 point clear, significant ground being made on Portadown and Cliftonville, and returning back to winning ways.
The league has a two week break due to the Irish Cup next Saturday. You can look at it two ways – (1) This result will stink the place out for two weeks, or (2) Two weeks until the next league game will give people a chance to get refreshed and get players back to full fitness.
Anyway, forget about today, time to move on. Up next in the league are Ballinamallard, Ballymena and Dungannon. We have to be looking at nine points from those games.
In that same time, Crusaders play Glentoran and Portadown. There is the potential for dropped points and a chance for Linfield to regain some ground.
Looking forward, it’s Tobermore United away in the Irish Cup. A new ground to visit for me.
Hopefully, a return to winning ways.