It was back to earth with a bump for Linfield as their winning start to the season came to an end at Seaview with their first defeat of the season.
There were positives for Linfield. Well, there are if you scrape the barrel for long enough. Linfield are still top of the league, and results elsewhere meant that Crusaders were the only team to close the gap on Linfield.
There were echoes of last season in both result and performance, but also in scenario. On New Year’s Day, Linfield went to Seaview top of the league and lost, and then were overtaken in the next game. That swing gave Crusaders the momentum to go on and win the league.
That game in question, a draw against Coleraine, came two days after New Year’s Day. This time around, Linfield will have a full week to get this out of their system, with Warrenpoint Town arriving at Windsor Park.
(No point complaining about a packed Christmas schedule by the way, it was the same for everybody)
Without sounding arrogant, but it’s a game Linfield should win, which will hopefully see them getting back on the wagon ahead of a triple header against Glenavon, Cliftonville and Glentoran.
Linfield actually began the game not too bad, passing it around a lot, albeit, not getting anywhere. A lot of attacks were let down by the final ball, mostly due to players not being on the same wavelength as their team-mate rather than a poor pass.
The first real moment of quality saw Reece Glendinning have a chance to score when he headed over from close range after a cross.
Glendinning was involved at the other end when he diverted a Billy Joe Burns shot out for a corner.
Crusaders attacking play in the early stages was coming from crosses and set pieces. Linfield were coping with them easily.
Midway through the first-half, that changed. Suddenly, Linfield were struggling with Crusaders crosses and set pieces.
Everytime the ball went into the box, Linfield started to get nervous. Colin Coates headed over from close range after a corner was flicked across the box.
Kirk Millar had Linfield’s only other moment of note in the first-half, when he fired over a snapshot in the penalty area.
As the half neared it’s end, Crusaders went in front when Jordan Owens headed home from a cross.
After that, the bad habits returned. Hoofing it straight to Coates and second to every ball.
The second-half didn’t get much better, and Crusaders went 2-0 up in the early stages, when Paul Heatley was the first to react when a long free-kick was flicked on.
It looked like being a repeat of the two defeats last season, with Linfield waiting until they were 2-0 down to start playing.
We didn’t even get that.
The bad habits continued – hoofing it to Coates, not getting the second ball, not even putting in tackles. Crusaders players were being given too much time on the ball.
To round it all off, Crusaders made it 3-0 with another Jordan Owens header from a cross into the box.
As bad as Linfield were, they were undone by three hoofs into the box. Especially disappointing, considering how well Linfield had defended so far this season.
Today was the previous six games flipped around, shaky in defence and never looking like scoring.
Defences and clean sheets win titles, so does bouncing back from bad results. Warrenpoint Town next week offers a great apportunity to do that.
Curiously, it was Linfield’s fourth away game of the season, and Andrew Waterworth and Guy Bates are yet to score in any of them.
It is great that Linfield have had other players who have stepped up in those games, but it does suggest that Linfield maybe don’t have the attacking ideas to get goals for their strikers when playing away from home.
Both of them will be glad that the next two league games will be at Windsor Park.