After last week’s Irish Cup defeat to Portadown, it was back to the league for Linfield today. It will be league games now for the rest of the season.
Ironically, last Saturday’s Semi-Final draw boosted Linfield’s chances of European football, with a Crusaders v Portadown Final meaning 4th place will reach the UEFA Cup. A good back-up to have in case this current downturn in form continues.
There were changes made as a result of last Saturday’s game, with Jonathan Tuffey, Aaron Burns, Matthew Clarke and Sammy Morrow all coming in to the starting eleven.
Warrenpoint kicked-off, but it was Linfield who were on the attack within seconds. The move came to nothing, but it was a statement of intent.
It was Warrenpoint who had the first chance of the game when a Stephen Hughes header was saved by Tuffey. Whenever Warrenpoint attacked, they gave Linfield moments of concern rather than panic.
Andrew Waterworth had a chance to put Linfield in front when he fired over from close range after a Stephen Lowry cross.
Linfield began to have a lot more possession, but looked more purposeful than recently. It looked as though they just needed to get one move right to get a goal.
The goal wasn’t long in coming, as Linfield got behind Warrenpoint’s defence, with the win holding it up nicely for Ross Clarke, he looked for someone to cross to, then decided to go himself, cutting inside and firing home with his left foot.
Within a minute, it was 2-0, after Jamie Mulgrew played in Sammy Morrow who got in behind Warrenpoint’s defence, and he was in the perfect situation for a striker.
He was through on goal. If the keeper ran out, he would lob him. If the keeper stayed on his line, Morrow would take the time to fire home.
The keeper came off his line, so Morrow lobbed him, and made no mistake in doing so.
There was a nervous moment for Linfield from a Warrenpoint cross that resulted in Aaron Burns having to head off the line. It looked as though the wind caused some problems for Tuffey.
Soon afterwards, it was 3-0 when Ross Clarke ran at Warrenpoint’s defence and played a cross for Sammy Morrow. A clearance from Darren King denied a certain goal for Morrow. The clearance was all in vain, as it fell to Jamie Mulgrew outside the box, and he fired home.
For the first time in a long time, Linfield looked like scoring whenever they attacked. Albeit against low ranking opposition, but they still have to be beaten. It is draws from winning positions against sides fighting against relegation such as Ballinamallard United and Institute that have contributed to the six point defecit at the top of the league.
If only Linfield could have played like that over the previous eight weeks.
If it wasn’t already, the game was over, it was only a matter of how much Linfield would win by.
Frustratingly, it would only be 3-0. There were more goals to be had in this game if Linfield pushed for it.
Given how Linfield had played in recent weeks, perhaps 3-0 wasn’t that secure a lead if Warrenpoint got an early second-half goal. It was Linfield who came closest in the early stages of the second-half when Sammy Morrow fired wide when put through on goal.
Warrenpoint’s best moment came when they forced Jonathan Tuffey into a double save.
Warren Feeney took the opportunity to introduce Kirk Millar and Rodney Brown from the bench and give them more gametime, in friendlier circumstances than they were introduced at Portadown last week.
The second-half was a non-event, it wasn’t very exciting. Though, if you’re 3-0 up at half-time, you should probably be thankful.
After recent games, you would have taken a 3-0 win if offered it before kick-off. Though, when it’s 3-0 after 20 minutes, you always want more.
As frustrating as it was not to build on the good start, the goal difference advantage that Crusaders have won’t be overtuend over the eight remaining games. The points defecit might.
It wasn’t today, as Crusaders won. Realistically, Institute at home wasn’t a game you’d be pinning your hopes on.
Ballymena and Coleraine away in the coming weeks are games you might pin your hopes on. Unfortunately, I fear Ballymena have downed tools in the League to concentrate on the Irish Cup.
To be positive, they’re only nine points off the relegation play-offs and would need one more win to be safe, plus there’s places in the team for the Cup Semi-Final. You have to be positive.
Coleraine did Linfield a favour today by holding Cliftonville to a draw, while Portadown also drew, meaning Linfield are eight points clear of guaranteed qualification for European football.
Today’s was Linfield’s last home game before the split. Today’s results mean that it is almost certain (barring two defeats, two wins for Portadown and a seven goal swing) that Linfield’s next game at Windsor Park will be the first post-split game, against Crusaders on 4th April.
Even four weeks away, that’s a must win game. But Crusaders have to be forgotten about, it’s all about Institute and Glenavon, to ensure Linfield go into that game with six more points added to their tally.
Would it be greedy to hope that the gap from the top is less than six points by then?