After the strange feeling of winning their first two games of the season (Linfield were unbeaten after two games for only the second time since 2009), Linfield welcomed Dungannon Swifts to Windsor Park hoping to make it three out of three.
The omens were good. Dungannon have never won a a league game at Windsor Park, they hadn’t scored in their last four games against Linfield, and had lost their last eleven successive visits to Windsor Park in the league. It all pointed to a home win.
Football isn’t played on paper, and Dungannon didn’t play like a team looking for their first win of the season at a ground they have a poor record at. They were more then holding their own.
Linfield were slow to get going. They were able to get the ball behind Dungannon’s defence, but neither Bates or Waterworth could get there before Dungannon’s keeper.
It was Dungannon who had the best moment of the early stages, when Matthew Clarke was forced to clear a goalbound shot off his own line.
Linfield’s best moment came when Andrew Waterworth had an attempt on goal, but dragged his shot wide.
Eventually, Linfield scored, and it came from the man of the moment, Aaron Burns, when he fired home from close range after the ball bounced around the penalty area. The third successive game that Linfield have scored from a Kirk Millar corner.
Having played so well so far, it was interesting to see how Dungannon would react to going 1-0 down. Unfortunately for Linfield, they carried on as they were.
They should have scored when Paul McElroy fired over from close range, and almost scored when David Armstrong had a header cleared off the line.
It was clear Linfield needed a second goal to kill this game off. They almost got it close to half-time when Stephen Lowry was able to get himself into a shooting position, but his shot went just wide.
Within the first 60 seconds of the second-half, it was Dungannon who equalised, as a free-kick was headed home by David Armstrong.
It was a deserved equaliser for Dungannon. The only positive for Linfield was, they had 44 minutes to rectify the situation.
There wasn’t an immediate response from Linfield, some possession but no chances.
Within minutes, the game swung decisively in their favour when David Armstrong got a second yellow card for a foul on Andrew Waterworth on the halfway line.
Before Dungannon were able to reshape their delpeted defence, Kirk Millar broke free out wide to tee up Andrew Waterworth to fire home from close range
Millar was now getting a lot of space. So were Linfield.
2-1 up against ten men, there was only going to be one winner. Linfield kept a lot of the ball but couldn’t make it 3-1 to kill the game off. Kirk Millar had the best moment when he missed from six yards out.
As the final ten moments approach, Dungannon made Linfield nervous for a few minutes when they had a short narrowly wide and a succession of corners.
Soon afterwards, the nerves were gone, as Andrew Waterworth fired him when a stray shot came into his direction. There was no way Dungannon were going to come back from this.
Adam Salley was introduced, and was involved in the 4th goal, setting up the pass that eventually found it’s way to Andrew Waterworth for him to head home from close range for his hat-trick.
It was his 3rd hat-trick for Linfield. The other two (against Ballymena and Warrenpoint) I had missed due to being out of the country. So it was good for me to finally witness one in the flesh.
In the final moments, Adam Salley got on the end of a cross to head home from close range. He’s had very little time in his three appearances, especially coming on when the game was won the the attacking wasn’t as intense.
It’s good for him to be getting minutes and goals, so that he can be even more ready if he is to start, or come off the bench when the game is up for grabs.
It was probably a harsh scorline on Dungannon, but it was a game that Linfield deserved to win.
Three wins from three. Despite them being games you would expect to win, it’s still good to get the points on the board.
Three games in, the league table is already taking shape, with Linfield and Cliftonville pulling away, then Glenavon and Portadown just behind. Two good results or two bad results at this time of year can dramatically change everything.
Up next, is a trip to Coleraine. It’s a game I won’t be at, as i’ll be foresaking Northern Ireland’s leaders for Scotland’s leaders.
I’m on my annual trip to Edinburgh for the Festival, but i’ll be taking in some football, including Hearts v Partick.
Hopefully when I arrive at Windsor Park for my next Linfield match, against Portadown in two weeks, i’ll be watching a team with four wins out or four.