Linfield took their 100% start to the season to Ballinamallard on a sunny day, but it was three points they wanted rather than a suntan, at a ground where a draw in January derailed their title challenge last season.
Not a lot happened in the opening stages, much to Linfield’s frustration. They couldn’t get a clear sight on goal.
Ballinamallard had a couple of speculative long range shots on goal which caused concern for Linfield, even if Ballinamallard never actually looked like scoring.
Linfield’s first moment of note came when an Andrew Waterworth header hit the crossbar. Waterworth was involved again soon after when he poked the ball home from close range, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.
Throughout the first-half, it wasn’t really happening for Linfield’s forward players.
As the half ended, Linfield had a late rally, but the ball never bounced for them, and they had to make do with drawing 0-0 at half-time.
Linfield started the second-half better, and nice passing between Andrew Waterworth and Guy Bates presenting a shooting opportunity for Matthew Clarke, but his shot was fired over.
Ballinamallard were able to see off Linfield’s attacks, until Sean Ward had some space 30 yards out, just enough to fire home and give Linfield the lead.
If Linfield had waited a long time for the goal, so had Ward, as it was his first for the club since joining in the summer of 2013.
The game threatened to boil over after that with some fiesty challenges coming in.
Linfield took control of the game as they aimed for a 2nd goal with a Bates shot just going wide and a Clarke free-kick being well saved.
Unable to get the 2nd goal that would have killed the game, Linfield were able to keep possession enough that the final moments weren’t as nervy as they should be when you’re defending a 1-0 lead, as they got the win that saw them keep up their 100% start to the season.
Crusaders 1-0 win at Solitude meant Linfield moved 5 points clear, but it also mean they’ll face a Crusaders team on form with 4 wins in a row.
However, we should be letting Crusaders worry about facing a Linfield team on form who have won 6 games in a row.
The most pleasing aspect, was the clean sheet. That’s 4 out of 6. A dramatic improvement considering that clean sheets were in short supply last season.
The more clean sheets, the better a chance you have of winning games, especially games like this, where they might be only to get one goal. Linfield found that out the hard way when they were 1-0 up at Ballinamallard in Janaury.
As mentioned, Linfield go to Seaview on Saturday, five points clear. When Linfield last visited Seaview in January, they were four points clear, lost, and it gave Crusaders the momentum to go on and win the league.
It’s the first big test for this Linfield team, and if they pass it, they’ll be eight points clear of one of their rivals before the middle of September.
Hopefully, lessons will have been learnt from last season, the biggest of which is, kill off your rivals when you have the chance. Linfield have that chance on Saturday.
Before then, I have another match to go to, the small matter of Northern Ireland v Hungary. You know a match when it is billed as “the small matter of”
Hopefully, there’ll be wins for Northern Ireland and Linfield in those two games. If there is, it will make 2016 potentially a year to remember.