As the split approaches, Linfield arrived at Drumahoe looking for three points to try and keep the pressure on Crusaders at the top of the table. Institute were desperate for points in order to ensure they would be playing Linfield and Crusaders in the league next season. An interesting afternoon awaited.
Linfield’s previous visit to Drumahoe in August feels a long way off. Both teams had made promising starts three games in and had high hopes for the season ahead. The seven months since probably hasn’t went how either team has hoped. In both team’s situation, the season was still retrievable.
The game started slow, but then Linfield began to dominate possession and had some attempts on goal. They were usually fired wide or over, or an easy save for Institute’s goalkeeper.
The tempo seemed to drift from on extreme to the other, with Linfield having lots of pressure, to Linfield not doing much with the ball.
Institute were set up to counter attack, and that’s where their best moments came from.
Most of Linfield’s play came from Ross Clarke, looking for him to run and defenders and get crosses in.
Ironically, for all Linfiled’s build-up play, it looked like they were going to take the lead from Stephen Lowry running on to the ball from his own tackle. That was, until Andrew Waterworth showed a striker’s instinct to get the ball and finish. Unfortunately, he was in an offside position when doing so.
With half-time approaching, Linfield built down their left, with an overhit pass looking like it was going out for a goal kick, before Matthew Clarke didn’t give up on it and won a corner
The resulting corner was headed home by Aaron Burns. It was a goal that Linfield needed just to settle the nerves.
The start of the second-half mirrored the first-half, with Linfield having a lot of possession in Institute’s half. Again, most of the play came through Ross Clarke.
Linfield were desperate for a second goal but just couldn’t get it. Sammy Morrow was the most frustrated of all, having a shot blocked over the bar, a header go over, then a shot save by Institute’s goalkeeper.
Institute have some play in Linfield’s half, but it didn’t amount to much. Their best moment was a free-kik easily saved by Tuffey. They had some crosses easily cleared. They didn’t really look like scoring, but this is a Linfield team that can concede a goal at any time. That thought was always in the back of your head.
If Linfield had kept a lot more clean sheets this season, you would have felt a lot more confident with a 1-0 lead going into the final minutes. Especially as the game had taken on a similar pattern to the game in August with Linfield failing to kill Institute off when 1-0 up, and being made to pay for it with a late equaliser.
No such problems for Linfield, as they held out for the win. Unfortunately, they walked off the pitch in the same situation as they walked onto it, six points behind Crusaders, after Crusaders won 3-1 at Ballymena.
Below Linfield, results went for Linfield with both Portadown and Cliftonville dropping points, meaning that Linfield are ten points clear of a guaranteed place in Europe next season.
That race has suddenly taken a twist, with Glenavon and Glentoran now having a sniff of 4th place, which could be enough for a UEFA Cup place, dependent on the results of the Irish Cup Semi-Finals next weekend.
It’s Glenavon next for Linfield, in two weeks time. No match next week, we only have ourselves to blame for that.
Mourneview Park has been a kind ground to Linfield. It has to remain that way in a fortnight if Linfield are going to have something to battle for when Crusaders come to Windsor Park
You never know, Coleraine might do us a favour in two weeks time. Favours are what we’re hoping for over the coming weeks. The important thing is, that we help ourselves.