There are very few certainties in football, but one of two things were certain to happen at Windsor Park.
One was that a Glenavon side struggling to recreate their form of the end of last season that saw them secure 3rd place, kicking off nine points behind Linfield would recreate it today and put a dent in Linfield’s title challenge.
The other, was that the game would be decided by someone playing against their former club.
The more pessimistic Linfield supporters feared it would be Johnny Tuffey or Kris Lindsay, while the more optimistic hoped it would be Guy Bates or Mark Haughey.
Glenavon had the recent form in meetings between the two sides, winning three of the four games last season, including both away games against Linfield.
Only one of those games was at Windsor Park, on a lovely sunny day in late September, just like today, with Glenavon hoping to repeat their 1-0 win 53 weeks previously.
Linfield made a good start to the game, but it was Glenavon who had the first shot on goal, when a Kevin Braniff shot was well saved by Ross Glendinning, before Rhys Marshall and Mark Haughey exchanged headers over the bar from set pieces, while Linfield’s first attacking moment of note came when Kirk Millar’s run and shot was well saved by Tuffey.
Also having a run and shot for Linfield was Guy Bates, who like Millar, saw it well saved by Tuffey.
It was Glenavon though, who scored first, when Kyle Neill scored directly from a corner.
It came at a period when Glenavon had a couple of set pieces which troubled Linfield, especially in the six yard box, which causes Ross Glendinning problems by being too crowded.
Despite going 1-0 down, there was no need for Linfield to panic. If they kept doing what they were doing in the final third, eventually, it would come right.
In the final stages of the first-half, the equaliser came, from a counter attack after Glendinning caught a corner, and rolled a pass to Kirk Millar, as if he was having a leisurely afternoon on the Bowling Green, whose short pass to Sean Ward allowed him to run at Glenavon’s defence to play in Andrew Waterworth to fire hom and make it 1-1.
When he was played in, there was no doubt that the ball was going to end up in the back of the net.
Soon after, Waterworth made a similar run and was played in, but his finish was disallowed for offside. He looked onside from where I was sat. David Kee was clearly offside, though not involved in play when the ball was played, which could have caused some confusion.
There would have been no cause to panic if Linfield had went in at half-time 1-0 down, but getting the equaliser meant they would be starting afresh in the second-half, and have a platform to build on.
And build on, Linfield did, with two quickfire goals from Millar and Waterworth.
Both goals came down the left. Niall Quinn broke down the left and played a pass across the six yard box. Kirk Millar couldn’t miss, and he didn’t.
Five minutes later, it was Matthew Clarke’s turn to set up a goal when Bates played him in and his cross was finished by Waterworth.
Just when it looked like Linfield were getting comfortable, Glenavon pulled one back when a Kevin Braniff shot was cleared off the line, but fell to Kris Lindsay, who couldn’t miss.
Lindsay was sent-off when Glenavon won at Windsor Park last season, and was hoping to have a more enjoyable afternoon this time around.
After that, Glenavon took control of the game. It was echoes of the 3-2 win against Ballymena at home in early October last season. 1-0 down, 3-1 up, then pegged back to 3-2 and nervously hanging on.
Despite the introduction of Ivan Sproule for an inured Niall Quinn, Linfield went defensive and were playing for a 3-2 win, further backed up by the introduction of Stephen Lowry for Guy Bates as Linfield went 4-5-1, when Lowry for Mulgrew seemed the most logical substitution.
This time last year, Clucas for Morrow was the default late substitution.
With ten minutes to go, Glenavon got a deserved equaliser when Eoin Bradley fired home in the penalty area.
Playing for a 3-2 win was always a dangerous tactic. All it needed was one bounce to fall to a Glenavon player, and so it proved when the ball fell to Bradley.
From that point, there was only going to be one winner, and unfortunately, that was Glenavon.
Soon after, Bradley had the chance to complete Glenavon’s comeback when a bad backpass played him through, but he scooped the ball over. He should have scored. He didn’t even need to shoot, he could have played in Gary Hamilton to fired into an open net.
The let-off seemed to give Linfield the push to have one last charge at Glenavon’s goal.
Ivan Sproule was able to break into the box, and his cross was put out for a corner. From the resulting corner, Mark Haughey headed home to make it 4-3.
It was Haughey’s 6th goal for Linfield, 4 have come against Warrenpoint and 2 have come against Glenavon.
Stephen Lowry thought he was going to make it 5-3, but his shot was well saved by Tuffey’s legs.
Linfield weren’t able to put the game to bed though. Jimmy Callacher came on for Kirk Millar for his first appearance of the season.
If Linfield had held on when 3-1 up, he could have been brought on much earlier in more relaxing circumstances.
What formation Linfield were playing was anyone’s guess. It was all about keeping the ball away from their goal. They weren’t helping themselves by giving the ball away cheaply. It is possible to defend a lead without putting loads of defenders on the pitch. A worrying tactic that could come back to haunt us in another game.
There was still one final chance for Glenavon when James Singleton burst through and saw his shot saved, and then he fired the rebound over.
Ivan Sproule tried to take the ball to safety, but was superbly dispossessed by a Rhys Marshall tackle, whose resulting run was thwarted by a Linfield player getting his body in the way.
Glenavon appealed for a penalty, it was never going to be given.
The final whistle blew from the resulting goal kick, as Linfield got the win, especially vital as Crusaders and Cliftonville both got wins in games they were expected to win.
Despite the win, Warren Feeney looked unhappy as he walked towards the dressing room.
It is Cliftonville who provide the opposition next week. Too many times in recent years, Linfield have faced Cliftonville with a chance to extend their lead at the top of the table, and only managed to let Cliftonville reduced the lead or overtake them.
The next two games against Cliftonville and Glentoran will see them reach the point where everybody will have played each other once.
If Linfield can come out of those games unscathed, it will be a great platform to build on, especially as the next three games (Warrenpoint, Carrick, Dungannon) are quite generous leading into the home game against Crusaders in early November.
In two weeks time, hopefully we’ll be able to say that Warren Feeney’s Linfield have made as much progress as the redevelopment work on the South Stand, which has had over 1,000 extra tickets for the Northern Ireland v Greece game made available.
Until then, a trip to Solitude, and what feels like an endless wait for a bus.
Hopefully, for once, it will be worth it.