PORTADOWN 1-1 LINFIELD 25.4.2015

I had originally planned on spending today on a day trip to Dublin, followed by taking in Bray Wanderers v Galway United, but I didn’t book the train in time to get a discount price, so I had to make alternative arrangements.

Once news broke yesterday that Peter Thompson would be leaving Linfield, I soon decided I would be heading for Shamrock Park to take in his last appearance for Linfield.

Sadly, it’s the right decision, but that doesn’t make it easier. Like Garrett, Murphy and Ervin in recent years, it was the right decision for Linfield, even though they will cause us problems when playing against us.

The amazing thing about Thompson is, despite the past three seasons being disrupted through injury, his goal stats for his Linfield career are still better than 1 in 2, which shows how prolific he was before injury.

There were times when we were 1-0 up in the tunnel when you saw his name on the teamsheet.

He captained Linfield today, and both teams formed a guard of honour, which I just about got to see, thanks to Portadown only having one turnstile open prior to kick-off.

As one Linfield career ends, Gareth Deane will be hoping another one is just beginning, as he made his first start, replacing Johnny Tuffey in goals.

Deane didn’t have a lot to do. He was unsighted by bodies for the goal and had one ropey moment from a cross, but didn’t do a lot wrong bar a couple of overeager kickouts that gave away possession.

Both teams had a lot of changes, with Portadown looking forward to the Irish Cup Final, and Linfield taking the opportunity to give gametime to players who haven’t played a lot this season, or players returning from injury, such as Chris Hegarty.

Ross Clarke had the first shot on goal of the game, but it was Portadown who had the first goal, when a cross fell to Darren Murray who fired home.

You could tell it was an end of season game by the lack of celebration from Murray. Even the Linfield fans behind the goal didn’t bother to get wound up to make their feeling known to the defence.

Despite it being an end of season game, you don’t want to lose four times in one season to the same team.

Linfield responded well to the setback, and got an equaliser almost immediately when Aaron Burns fired home from close range after Jimmy Callacher headed across the box.

To see Linfield respond so well to going behind was pleasing, considering some the limp defeats that happened this season.

In fact, the last three games given Linfield fans optimism for next season – not capitulating at going 1-0 down to Cliftonville and Portadown early on, and not capitulating when Crusaders pulled it back to 2-1 on Tuesday, or when Ivan Sproule was sent-off.

Maybe a corner has been turned and Linfield are adding some resiliance to their game? Too late for this season, but not too early for next season.

There was still some dodgy defensive moments for Linfield, mostly when the ball was in the air, allowing it to bounce and cause havoc. When the ball was on the ground in open play, Linfield coped with Portadown.

After the early goals, the game became end of season stuff, not particularly exciting, the best moment in the remainder of the first-half coming for Portadown when Soares hit the post.

Linfield were better in the second-half. You could tell they were desperate to get Peter Thompson a farewell goal, trying to pass to him at every opportunity.

He almost got that goal from a close range header, but was denied by a top class save by David Miskelly. Linfield fans behind the goal rued the save, not because it denied their side going in front, but because it denied them the Thompson goal they all craved.

Thompson had another chance for that goal when he headed over after a scramble in the box.

If he couldn’t get a farewell goal, he almost got a farewell assist, when his cross was headed over by Rodney Brown.

Linfield had more of the attacking play, but couldn’t get the breakthrough, the match finishing a draw.

It might not have been a win, but it was a better way to end my Linfield watching season than the pitiful surrender against Glenavon two weeks previously.

There were some positive moments this season, but a lot more frustrating moments. A lack of a second striker to score goals alongside Waterworth cost us.

Waterworth scored his first goal in a while on Tuesday night. You don’t notice it in his performance when he doesn’t score, but you notice it in the rest of the team.

Ultimately, it was the run of bad results against Crusaders, Coleraine, Ballinamallard, Cliftonville and Portadown in January and February that killed off Linfield’s title challenge before the split.

I believe that Warren Feeney is the right man for the job and needs to be given time to get his players, and his squad, but he needs to learn from his mistakes and not be so stubborn at times.

There are far too many players at Linfield just making up the numbers.

It’s easy to forget that David Jeffrey had some bad signings and results in his first calendar year in charge.

After being appointed in January 1997, it was his signings of William Murphy, David Larmour and Glenn Ferguson between September 1997 and January 1998 that set the club up for the next decade.

The player recruitment for 2015-2016 has already begun, the positions of urgency are goalkeeper and striker.

One team that Linfield will be playing in the league next season will be Carrick Rangers, who won promotion today. I’ve never been to Taylor’s Avenue, so hope they will be able to use that next season so I can have a new ground to visit for the first time.

Bangor face Warrenpoint in the play-off. I’ve no dislike towards Warrenpoint, but a trip to Bangor, ideally in August or September is very tempting.

While in Portadown, I got myself a ticket for the Irish Cup Final. I’ve been in Coleraine (2003) and Glenavon (2014) ends when they’ve won the cup, so you can thank me if you win Portadown.

That’ll be me domestically for this season. All that remains is a trip to Old Trafford to see United take on Arsenal, and Northern Ireland’s matches against Qatar and Romania.

I’m planning to do the Dublin/Bray day trip on June 27th, when Bray are at home to Sligo Rovers. It would be my first match of 2015-2016, two weeks after my last match of 2014-2015. For the record, Bray lost 5-0 at home to Galway today.

Northern Ireland’s match against Romania will give me a first opportunity to experience the new Railway Stand or South Stand at Windsor Park, a lot earlier than expected.

Then there will be Linfield’s European matches in July. Hopefully, we can get to the 3rd Round of the UEFA Cup after near misses in recent years, although i’m wanting Linfield to be playing in the European Cup in 2016-2017, obviously.

It’s only 105 days until the opening league game of the 2015-2016 season. It can’t come soon enough.

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 24.4.2015

1. Natalie Imbruglia – Instant Crush
2. FFS – Johnny Delusonal
3. Grant Nicholas – Everyday Society
4. The Charlatans – Let The Good Times Be Never Ending
5. Slaves – Cheer Up London

Yesterday, was St George’s Day. So, in honour of it, here’s a chart of songs by English acts. Sadly, there won’t be a chart of songs with cities in the title, because there aren’t many of them, unless they’re London, or boroughs in London. Well, apart from Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, obviously.

FIVE SONGS BY ENGLISH ACTS

1. James – She’s A Star
2. Lightning Seeds – Pure
3. The Kooks – She Moves In Her Own Way
4. The Beautiful South – Old Red Eyes Is Back
5. Roxy Music – More Than This

And finally, a chart featuring singers called George, or bands with someone called George in it.

FIVE SONGS BY SINGERS CALLED GEORGE

1. Wham – Freedom
2. One Night Only – Say You Don’t Want It
3. Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
4. George Ezra – Blame It On Me
5. George Harrison – Got My Mind Set On You

PSNI 1-3 CARRICK RANGERS 21.4.2015

With Linfield’s fate already decided, it was Championship action for me on Tuesday as I headed to Newforge (First time visit too) to see PSNI take on Carrick Rangers, both sides whose destiny this season is anything but decided.

Both sides were desperate for a win but for different reasons – Carrick to go into their final game top, and PSNI to avoid relegation.

A lack of floodlights at Newforge meant this game was a 6.45pm kick-off. Unfortunately, I missed the opening minutes, and a goal for Carrick from Ciaran Donaghy, which will have settled their nerves

From when I arrived, Carrick were dominant, but just couldn’t get that killer pass.

The game threatened to boil over after a wild challenge from PSNI’s right-back, who got a yellow when it should have been a red. Carrick’s bench were annoyed, responding with language that couldn’t be repeated on this blog, but it was along the lines of Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo Oscar Foxtrot Foxtrot.

More robust tackling came from the peelers, with inevitble “POLICE BRUTALITY!!!!!” cries from the Carrick support.

Eventually, Carrick turned their domination into goals, with a double blast just before the break – a header from McCloskey and a finish from Cherry.

If Carrick were planning on taking it easy at 3-0, their bench wasn’t going to let them, as players were lambasted if standards dropped.

PSNI made a good start to the second-half, with a shot going wide.

The nervous Carrick fans wanted a 4th goal, just to be sure. They thought they had it, but a Miguel Chines effort was ruled out for offside.

PSNI got a goal back when a saved shot hit a Carrick player, Smyth, and went in. Carrick’s fns got nervous, but became less nervous with each passing minute with the score at 3-1.

Carrick were able to see the game out, and their fan’s attentions turned to events at Tillysburn, when a Bangor defeat away to Harland and Wolff Welders would have sent them up with a game to go.

It wasn’t to be, as Bangor won 1-0.

This result meant that Carrick secured a play-off place at least. Both Carrick and PSNI go into Saturday’s games knowing that a win will help them secure their aim of promotion (Carrick) or safety (PSNI)

With Carrick being at home to already relegated Dundela, you would expect them to get the three points.

If they do, it will mean a first ever visit to Taylor’s Avenue for me at some point next season.

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 17.4.2015

1. Paul Weller – Saturns Pattern
2. Blur – Lonesome Street
3. George Ezra – Did You Hear The Rain?
4. Saint Raymond – Come Back To You
5. Black Rivers – Age Of Innocence

So, this week, Paul Weller announced a concert at Waterfront Hall in November. I’ve never seen him play live, and i’m desperate to see this.

Was tempted to see him at Kilmainham last year, but it was a midweek gig and wanted to save my Annual Leave.

The lack of a Belfast gig was tempting me to head to Manchester in November, assuming United were at home that weekend.

But, he’s coming to Belfast. Now, all I need to do, is make sure I get a ticket.

In the meantime, here’s a Paul Weller solo Top Five for you

FIVE SONGS BY PAUL WELLER

1. The Changingman
2. Sunflower
3. Mermaids
4. Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea
5. He’s The Keeper

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : NME BIG BOOK – NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2003

It’s the end of 2003, and NME brings out a Big Book to celebrate, as a photo collage of stars from the year such as Beyonce, Justin Hawkins, Charlie Simpson and Chris Martin form the cover.

The forward, comes from Jack and Kelly Osbourne, with Jack stating his highlight of the year was discovering The Darkness.

The format takes on a month by month review of the year, starting, obviously with January, with Danger! High Voltage by Electric Six being named Song Of The Month.

The Libertines get a double page spread, with Carl Barat looking back at 2003 with some of his favourite photos.

Coldplay go one better and have three pages, looking back at their successful year, which saw them play venues in the UK such as Earls Court and MEN Arena.

That is then followed by a Top Ten highlights from the 2003 NME Awards, which included Steve-O exposing himself in front of The Polythonic Spree.

Turning over the page, it’s The White Stripes. Or is it? Closer inspection reveals The Cheeky Girls dressed up as The White Stripes.

In the accompanying interview, Monica revealed she bought a recent edition of NME and found the articles very interesting, and she would most like to date Hugh Grant, if given a choice of Hollywood stars.

In their review of February, NME announces Move Your Feet by Junior Senior as their Song Of The Month.

NME faves The Strokes get a double page feature as they released their second album in late October.

Also getting a double page feature are Radiohead, as NME lists their Top Ten Radiohead Gigs Of The Year.

In Da Club by 50 Cent is declared Song Of The Month for March, while in news, Top Of The Pops ban t-shirts protesting against the Iraq War.

Which leads us nicely into NME’s Top Ten Anti Iraq War Songs, which includes a reworking of Faith by George Michael and Ms Dynamite.

Avril Lavigne, who had a successful 2003 gets a three page interview, where she reveals her favourite swear word is fuck.

Also getting three pages, is The Music, listing their top ten cities visited, including Blackpool, Paris and San Francisco.

NME love their Top Tens. Next up, is Top Ten Pin Badges.

The next Top Ten goes on a sombre theme, as NME remembers the ten much missed stars who died in 2003, such as Johnny Cash, Barry White, Maurice Gibb and Robert Palmer.

It’s not all Rock, as NME does a double page interview with Girls Aloud, discussing their favourite animal based stories of 2003, such as a farmer who played Classical music to his pigs being branded a noise nuisance by the local council, and a Jack Russell who mastered Surfing.

Back to The Strokes, if you wanted, you could make your own finger puppets of The Strokes.

In news, Siobhan Donaghy, former Sugababe, played at Glastonbury wearing a The Darkness t-shirt.

There is a two page review of Glastonbury, followed by a Dress Up Justin, where you can dress up Justin Hawkins from The Darkness in various outfits.

With the ipod new onto the market, NME dedicates a page to the songs you should put on yours, assuming you had one.

Dick Valentine of Electric Six gets a full page, discussing their massive hit that year, Gay Bar.

More Top Tens now, we have Top Ten Comments From Blazin Squad’s Messageboard, and Simon Amstell details his Top Ten Interviews Of 2003, in his role as host of Popworld on Channel 4.

There was also a quiz, most notably, What Christina Are You?, as you try to find out which Christina Aguilera alter ego you have.

We also get a Top Ten CD:UK Moments, featuring a spat between Louis Walsh and Mel C, where Louis defends Girls Aloud, who he manages, proclaiming “At least Girls Aloud will have successful solo careers”

Having interviewed Princess Diana and Michael Jackson (not together though), who was next for Martin Bashir? Busted. He interviewed them for NME.

And that, was 2003. Um, what a year.

LINFIELD 0-2 GLENAVON 11.4.2015

That’s it, it’s over. Not mathematically, but theoretically, the title race is over. For the second successive season, Linfield’s title challenge ended with a limp 2-0 defeat at home.

Linfield and Glenavon went into today’s game on the back of important wins – Glenavon with a 5-0 win over Cliftonville which put them level on points with Cliftonville in the race for UEFA Cup football, and Linfield with a 2-1 win over Glentoran to give them a slight hope in the title race.

Problems with The Kop at Windsor Park meant this game was moved to the Ballymena Showgrounds, Linfield’s 4th home ground of the season, one of which was Glenavon’s Mourneview Park.

Realistically, the title was a long hope, Linfield knew that a win would secure European football for next seasonm although a draw or defeat could be enough depending on other results.

Linfield were getting into good positions early on, but the passes weren’t played and the attacks died pretty quickly. There was no urgency, nobody taking the lead. Despite Linfield having possession, Glenavon were comfortable.

Linfield’s best attacking moment of the opening moment was a cross that Aaron Burns was unable to get on to.

When Glenavon got forward, they looked more likely to score, and more likely to create an opportunity to score. When the ball was in Linfield’s final third, it felt like Jonathan Tuffey v Glenavon.

After making a close range save to deny a goal bound shot, Tuffey was forced to make a good save when Eoin Bradley cut inside to fire a shot on his left foot.

Linfield had moments in the first-half, but not a lot of them, when Andrew Waterworth fired a shot across goal when he should have aimed for the far post, while Aaron Burns low shot was saved by Glenavon’s keeper, there was nobody there to follow up when the ball fell loose in the box.

Glenavon soon took the lead, and it was a goal that was easily avoidable. A ball forward was intercepted by Sean Ward under pressure. Instead of passing it back to his keeper, he tried to play it forward and got involved in a battle for possession, with the ball falling to Kevin Braniff, whose shot was deflected goalbound.

The linesman said it was over the line, Linfield players said it didn’t. I was at the other end of the pitch so didn’t get a clear view. TV pictures were inconclusive.

Wether the goal should have stood or not, the danger should have been cleared long before Braniff hit his shot. There was still time for Linfield to respond.

The goal galvanised Linfield. I say “Galvanised”, they had a free-kick against the wall and a couple of corners. All that possession and not looking like scoring. A recurring theme throughout the season.

It would have helped if Linfield had some accuracy with their passing. Far too often, the passes were overhit or underhit or into the wrong area. Far too many times, a Linfield player’s second touch was a tackle.

One incident summed it up, when Glenn Belezika overhit a pass to Jamie Mulgrew, forcing him to make a stretching tackle which went out for a throw.

In a matter of seconds, attacking possession on Linfield’s right hand side became attacking possession for Glenavon on their right hand side.

Ross Clarke came on for Peter Thompson, while Kirk Millar, another subsitute, had Linfield’s best attacking moment in the second-half with a header.

In truth, despite the score being 1-0, Glenavon were comfortable. You got the feeling if Linfield equalised, Glenavon would be able to step it up and win 2-1.

The substitutions summed up what is wrong with Linfield’s squad. Bringing on a winger to play up front and a defender to play in midfield. Far too many players making up the numbers, and players having to make up for a lack of numbers in other positions.

With fifteen minutes to go, Glenavon made it 2-0 with a header from Ciaran Martyn. There was no way back for Linfield after that, not that there was a way back at 1-0.

Despite that result, Linfield qualified for next season’s UEFA Cup as other results went in their favour. More a case of limping over the line rather than actually qualifying on merit.

Where those games will be played remains to be seen. I fully expect to see a drastic change in personnel when Linfield take the field in those games.

Today was the latest in a sorry run of results against the top sides in the league. Here’s a comparison :

V 1st to 5th P13 W2 D3 L8

V 6th to 12th P22 W 18 D4 L0

Those two wins against the Top five came before Christmas as well. Breaking it down to those individual games, it’s been a recurring theme all season – not creating enough chances, wasting those that come along, not killing teams off when on top, and conceding poor goals at vital moments. A lot of players in and out are needed in order to address that next season.

With the next two Saturdays being away games, there’s a high chance this might be my last Linfield game of the season, but it won’t be my last football match. Might take in the finale of the Championship season. On April 25th, I might take a day trip to Dublin then head to Bray Wanderers match that day. In the middle of May there’s a trip to Old Trafford to see Untied take on Arsenal, then Northern Ireland’s matches against Qatar and Romania.

Now is the time of year to start wishing for pre-season friendlies – Stranraer, Dundela, PSNI, Larne all away. Mainly because they’re grounds I haven’t been to, or haven’t been to for a while.

2014-2015 will be a season that lasted for 344 days, and then a 2-3 week pre-season before Linfield’s European games.

2015-2016 is expected to be just as long as i’m planning to be in France in June 2016 (regardless of wether Northern Ireland qualify or not)

Hopefully, by the time I jet off for France, i’ll have celebrated a Linfield title win 6 weeks earlier.

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GLENTORAN 1-2 LINFIELD 7.4.2015

Long awaited rebuilding work that was looking good at Christmas and being on track, it is now in danger of falling apart into rubble. It’s fair to say that the Windsor Park Redevelopment could be a metaphor for Linfield’s season, or vice versa.

Despite my qualifications in Structural Engineering (being a football fan with internet access is what you need seemingly), i’m not going to comment on the unfortunate events/god’s wrath for playing football on a Sunday as it’s being handled by professionals, and it’s best to wait to see what they report.

It means that Linfield’s home games won’t be at Windsor Park (there’s only two remaining, it was probably lucky it happened at this time of year rather than November/December time), it could mean next season’s European games being played at another team’s ground this summer.

However, it was ensuring European qualification that was Linfield’s main concern. They were in a good position to do so at kick-off.

Glenavon’s win over Cliftonville helped their chances, though they would have been helped no matter what the result. 4 points from the next 3 games, assuming Portadown lose one of theirs, would be enough.

Linfield travelled to The Oval to take on a Glentoran side just beaten 4-0 by Glenavon, and desperate to repeat their title challenge ending win over Linfield on Easter Tuesday last year.

Both teams went into this game without a major attacking threat through suspension – Curtis Allen for Glentoran and Ross Clarke for Linfield.

Ivan Sproule came in for Clarke, while Peter Thompson came in up front for Linfield in place of Sammy Morrow. Thompson played well despite not having many clear cut opportunities, always making himself available as an outlet up front.

It was early Linfield pressure, the best chance coming to Andrew Waterworth.

Glentoran’s best moment came when David Scullion lobbed the ball over from a wide angle.

Glentoran were trying to get it behind Linfield’s defence, waiting for the moment to get lucky. That moment came when Fra McCaffrey was played through. He was never going to miss. He didn’t.

Andrew Waterworth had a chance to equalise when he fired over from a dangerous Aaron Burns cross.

Chances were there for Linfield, but not being taken. You hoped the goals would come. You feared it would be a repeat of the last league game at Glenavon.

Glentoran players were able to get to the second ball every time. It was sloppy and sluggish from Linfield. As much as Linfield were the better team, there was still a lot of improvement needed.

As the second-half began, Linfield had the ball in an around Glentoran’s penalty area but weren’t doing much with it. They didn’t look like scoring in open play. As the hour mark approached, they got a glorious opportunity to score from a dead ball situation, a penalty kick.

Ironically it was an overhit touch from Glenn Belezika which created the opportunity, by inviting a tackle from Marcus Kane.

As Aaron Burns stepped up, I thought he was going to miss. Partly because he missed against Portadown, and partly because of the way the game had gone so far. Thankfully, he didn’t.

Like the Glenavon game ten days earlier, this was not a game that was going to finish 1-1. It was either going to be a 1-0 defeat or a 2-1 win.

Unlike at Mourneview Park, Linfield got the equaliser they desired. Crucially, they had half an hour to get the winner.

Peter Thompson had a chance that he fluffed before Linfield took the lead with a Mark Haughey header from a corner. There was only on winner from there.

Linfield were able to see the game out with relative ease, though they didn’t help themselves by sitting back and inviting Glentoran onto them. Thankfully, Glentoran didn’t have the ability to make the most of it.

Jimmy Callacher came on for Ivan Sproule. No offence to Callacher, but it should be a like for like sub (ie – Kirk Millar)

Better teams will punish us if we state our intentions are to have what he hold in the final stage of matches.

An Aaron Burns header just wide, would have made the final stages a lot more relaxing.

As the game entered the final minutes, Linfield were able to keep possession, and do so in Glentoran’s half. They can;t hurt us if we’ve got the ball. As the minutes and seconds ticked down, Linfield fans were aware that Crusaders had lost 1-0 to Portadown.

A win on Saturday will secure European football for next season, but what competition? Let’s be realistic, it’ll be the UEFA Cup.

There’s a small hope of it being the European Cup. It’s better than no hope.

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MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : Q – MARCH 1991

Queen, having just released their latest album Innuendo, are the cover stars of Q, in the early months of a year that would see the death of their lead singer Freddie Mercury.

Tom Jones feels the wrath of Q in their monthly “Who the hell does …….” column.

In news, Stone Roses are in Wales, working on an album they hoped to release that Autumn. It was slightly delayed …….. until December 1994.

Q does a four page feature on the work of Showbiz journalists at The Sun, Daily Mirror and Daily Star. You may recognise The Sun’s man, a young Piers Morgan, who boasts that he earns as much money as the Prime Minister.

Queen get a five page feature, mainly an interview with Brian May, covering the furore over their appearance at Sun City, with May defending the band’s appearance “The audience was mixed, as was our hotel. We were able to speak against Apartheid in interviews and play with black musicians in Soweto”

May also spoke about their post Live Aid revival, their decline in America, and Ice Ice Baby, which featured a sample of Under Pressure, which May thought wouldn’t sell as he thought it was crap.