After a costly defeat at Windsor Park last Friday night, the Irish Cup draw offered Linfield a chance for instant revenge on Portadown, as they headed to Shamrock Park looking to reach the semi-finals of the Irish Cup.
As the rain fell, it It was Portadown who had the first chance of the game when Ross Redman got a sight of goal in the penalty area, but his shot was saved by Ross Glendinning. From the resulting corner, Portadown got a penalty for a handball. I couldn’t see who handled it, but it looked like a Linfield player. It was an utterly stupid thing to do.
Chris Casement stepped up, and Portadown 1-0 up.
Linfield reacted to that setback by having a lot of posession, especially in Portadown’s final third. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much with it. A familiar tale.
Linfield has some crosses and caused confusion and concern in Portadown’s defence. But that’s all it was. There wasn’t a chance for Linfield. There wasn’t a moment when Linfield had all that possession that you thought a goal was imminent.
The conditions weren’t great for football, but it was the same for both teams. Portadown were more able to adapt to the conditions and use them to their advantage.
When Linfield had a corner or free-kick, it was either underhit or overhit. Portadown were able to play their passes perfectly to create an opportunity. Their second goal was a perfect example.
Ross Redman hit an outswinging free-kick on the left hand side. He made use of the wind and got his trajectory perfect so that it went straight into the six yard box. The ball was loose, and Gary Twigg got a touch to put it in the back of the net. It was all he needed to do.
It was poor defending from Linfield. No matter how good a ball it was, it just needed someone to either get a touch on the ball to clear, or just put their body in the way to stop Twigg from getting a shot on goal.
I was behind the goal it was scored in, and thought it was an own goal, but it seems to have been credited to Twigg. There’s no Dubious Goals Committee in the Irish League, so it’ll go down as his goal, unless a Linfield player wants to claim the own goal.
Despite Linfield’s lack of options up front, if you defend properly and keep clean sheets, you can compensate for that deficiency.
Linfield’s response was to make a substitution on the half hour, as Sammy Morrow cam on for Warren Feeney. It summed up Linfield’s problems up front.
No offence to Warren Feeney, but he’s done as a player. Sammy Morrow is a capable Irish League player at best. If you’re playing against Linfield and they’re chasing a goal, and you see Sammy Morrow getting ready to come off the bench, you’re not going to be shaking with fear.
As the game approached half-time, you started thinking, that Linfield need to get to half-time at 0-2 or better, regroup at half-time, attacking their fans. They didn’t even get to that.
Peter McMahon had some space and a sight of goal. Surprisingly, he passed to Gary Twigg. Luckily for him, the decision was justified as Twigg fired home from a tight angle. Sat behind the goal, i’d originally thought it hit the side netting.
Whatever was said in the Linfield dressing room at half-time, it wasn’t a lengthy teamtalk as Linfield were out for the second-half long before Portadown.
Realistically, the game was over, but football fans don’t do logic. With Linfield attacking their own fans in the second-half, and if they get an early goal, you never know. Right?
Linfield never looked like getting that early goal. There was no waves of attacks on the Portadown goal. Portadown didn’t need to score, but looked the most likely team to score next.
Linfield’s only real attacking moments of note came when Ross Clarke got the ball and ran at goal. Every time though, he was usually crowded out.
Jimmy Callacher had a free-kick just fired over the bar. There was nothing in open play of note for Linfield.
Eventually, they went for broke, taking off Jimmy Callacher for Kirk Millar, and moving Ross Clarke to right-back. It seemed a bit Antonio Valencia to me.
On 72 minutes, Linfield pulled one back with their first real moment of quality, when Andrew Waterworth played in Stephen Lowry, who fired home.
72 minutes late, Linfield began to start playing, with Clarke and Waterworth firing agonisingly wide.
With ten minutes to go, the ball fell to Lowry in the penalty area, who fired home. Suddenly, Linfield were back in it.
For all Linfield’s possession in the final stages, they didn’t get a clear chance on goal. A familiar story throughout the season. As the final minutes approached, Portadown were able to take control of possession, making sure they had the ball in Linfield’s final third, as far away from their own goal as possible.
Portadown held out to reach the semi-finals, where they will face Ballymena United.
The fact the scoreline was made “respectable” in the second-half, shouldn’t allow the first-half performance and basic errors being made to be forgotten or overlooked.
Despite the disappointment of today and last Friday, the season is far from over this season.
Linfield face the bottom two in the next two league games, then travel to a ground they have an excellent record at. There’s no reason why Linfield can’t go into the split with three successive wins.
It’s unlikely Crusaders will drop seven more points than Linfield over the next eight games, but we have to be ready in case they do. If Crusaders are to win the league, make them win the league and don’t gift it to them like we did to Cliftonville last Easter.
Plus, there’s still European football to secure. And, hopefully, a lot of players playing for their futures.