If it wasn’t already, it’s fair to say the 2014-2015 Irish League title race is over after Linfield slumped to a 1-0 defeat at a rejuvinated Glenavon, fighting for a place in next season’s UEFA Cup.
Linfield attacked the Hospital Road end of the ground, where none of their fans were based. No reason or justification was given, you’re just not allowed to stand behind the goal at Mourneview Park any more. Barriers and cordon tape were in place in case you didn’t get the message. One of the best things about Mourneview Park is standing behind that goal when your team is attacking it.
Linfield started the game the stronger team, looking the most likely to score, especially when Aaron Burns headed wide from a few yards out. Most of the play came through Ross Clarke.
Despite this, it was Glenavon who took the lead when a long clearance from their goalkeeper saw Eoin Bradley get in behind the defence to fire home first time.
Niall Quinn didn’t cover himself in glory, but big question marks over Jonathan Tuffey for failing to see the potential danger, and then staying within his own six yard box, making Bradley’s mind up for him, that he knew if he made good contact first time, he would score.
If Tuffey comes off his line, he makes the goal smaller, forces Bradley into making a split decision. It was such a poor goal to concede after a good start to the game.
It wasn’t the only nervy moment Tuffey had, a few dodgy moments at crosses, and misjudging a ball to going out for a goal kick which almost let Glenavon score.
Glenavon did make it 2-0, or so they thought, when it was disallowed for a foul on Tuffey. I thought it was a foul at the time, but it looks soft having watched a TV replay. If he commanded the situation and caught or cleared it, it wouldn’t be a debate.
Quinn was in the team today in place of the injured Glenn Belezika, with Matthew Clarke moving to right-back. Clarke struggled in that role, as he has no confidence in his right foot. A baffling decision, especially with Reece Glendinning on the bench.
After that Glenavon goal, Linfield were shaky for a while after that. To the point, that you were hoping they would hold out to go in at half-time 1-0 down and rectify the situation in those 15 minutes.
Eventually, Linfield recovered their composure and thought they had a penalty when Andrew Waterworth was fouled in the penalty area, with the referee deciding to play advantage with Linfield having the ball 25 yards from goal, and then not awarding the penalty.
When you think you’ve seen everything in Irish League football, something else just comes along that you didn’t think was possible.
It got worse for the referee when he only yellow carded Mark Patton for a kick at Ross Clarke off the ball. It wasn’t the force you would use for a drop goal, but the rules are there.
This seemed to briefly spur Linfield on, having a strong (it’s all relative) finish to the half, the best moment when a first time Andrew Waterworth shot went wide from a tight angle.
The second-half began with Linfield having posession but not doing much with it. Linfield’s best moment came when a Matthew Clarke free-kick hit the top of the bar.
With each passing minute, you knew it wasn’t going to finish 1-1. It was either going to be 1-0 to Glenavon or 2-1 to Linfield. If Linfield could get an equaliser, they would go on to win the game.
The problem was, they couldn’t get an equaliser, and didn’t look like getting one. Far too often, an attack was ended with an overhit or inaccurate pass seeing the ball go out for a goal kick.
Ivan Sproule had recovered enough from injury to be on the bench. As much as he frustrates me, I would have brought him on to run at Glenavon’s defence and try and make something happen.
The ball was in Glenavon’s box a lot, but the luck was with Glenavon. In truth, Glenavon “Made their own luck” by getting players in the right position to clear or block any danger.
It wasn’t all one way traffic. With Linfield’s desperation for a goal, reverting to a 3-5-2 formation, Glenavon had opportunities on the counter attack, failing to take any of them, keeping Linfield still alive in the game.
Andre Waterworth was seeing most of the ball. He was everywhere. It was quite damming that he was having to set up the attacks that others should be doing.
Chances of the three points going to Windsor Park diminished with each passing minute, especially when Ross Clarke was sent-off for a second yellow card late on.
The referee waved play on, and only made a decision when Glenavon’s bench ran out of their technical area to protest. It was a yellow card foul. Even when making a right decision, the referee managed to be hopeless.
It wasn’t his first delayed decision of the afternoon, having decided that Linfield should have a corner kick after allowing play to continue for long enough that the ball was on the halfway line.
Today we learnt that Linfield need a commanding goalkeeper, need to defend better, need at least one, possibly two strikers who can just put the ball in the net, and need somebody who can take a game by the scruff of the neck when struggling to break through a defence.
Basically, what we’ve known all season.
The season isn’t over yet. The title might be gone, but there’s 15 points to play for, 9 more needed to secure European football. Forget the aspect of European football, we need to finish the season strong to have something to build on next season.