The 2015-2016 Irish League season began today. For Linfield, it was a game against Ballymena United. It was a double rarity, a home game (last opening day one was 2010) and a win (last opening day win was 2011)
Linfield had a lot of possession early one, but nothing really noteworthy. As the minutes passed, they became more and more in control of the game.
Ballymena were set up to get bodies behind the ball and break quickly, though they never had an opportunity to advance in Linfield’s defensive third.
The developing partnership between Guy Bates and Andrew Waterworth was clear for all to see, holding up the ball and causing panic for Ballymena’s defence.
If they weren’t getting in behind them or being on the end of a chance, they were setting it up for someone else.
Waterworth got through on goal but couldn’t get into a clear position, and dragged his shot wide.
Given Linfield’s pressure, a goal was inevitible. If it didn’t come in the first-half, it would have come at some point in the second-half. Put simply, there was only going to be one winner.
Linfield took the lead on 35 minutes when Aaron Burns headed home from a corner. The bonus for me is, that Aaron Burns is in my Sunday Life Fantasy League team.
As the half neared it’s end, Burns got his second when Stephen Lowry was played through on the byline. He wasn’t going to score, but he manager to put the ball past Alan Blayney into the six yard box for Aaron Burns to run in and fire home.
Inbetween those two Burns goals, Ross Glendenning was forced to make a save from a Neil Gawley header.
That wasn’t the end of the first-half action, as Jim Ervin attempted a Nayim style lob (albeit, from closer in), but thankfully, Glendenning fared a bit better than David Seaman, and tipped it over the bar.
David Cushley had a shot easily saved by Glendenning in the opening moments of the second-half, but that was all Ballymena offered, as the story of the half was Linfield headers going just wide and Ballymena players getting booked for cynical fouls.
There was one worrying moment for Linfield when Glendenning was forced to save from Cushley outside the box. At the time, I thought it was a possible handball, though watching it back on Final Score suggested that it his head, and the referee made the correct decision by waving play on.
Soon after, there was a red card, as Jim Ervin went for a Professional Foul on Guy Bates. Niall Quinn’s shot from the resulting free-kick forced Alan Blayney into a save.
Soon after, it was 3-0, as Andrew Waterworth fired home from close range after Stephen Lowry nodded to ball to him.
With the game, Warren Feeney took the opportunity to introduce youngsters Adam Sally and TJ Murray.
Sally fluffed a shot with his first touch, but the resulting play saw him pluck up the confidence to shoot from outside the box, which went wide but gave Blayney cause for concern.
Salley only had a lot of build-up play to do, but what he did, he did well..
In Injury Time, Reece Glendenning scored from one yard out after a Stephen Lowry free-kick hit the post.
As the final whistle blew, Linfield found themselves top of the league after 1 match, the position they want to be in after 38 games. As a bonus, already three points ahead of Crusaders and Glentoran.
No time to revel in the glory, as an away game to Carrick Rangers awaits, their first top flight game at Taylor’s Avenue (or, Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena, if you prefer) since 1995.
It will also be my first visit there, so i’m looking forward to that.
Later in the month, i’m going to Edinburgh, primarily for the Comedy Festival, but i’m going to take the opportunity to see some football at Hearts, Rangers and Dunfermline.
It’s great that the football season is finally up and running.