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.