David Healy’s reign as Linfield manager got off to a winning, but not convincing, start with a 3-0 win at Warrenpoint.
The result saw Linfield got two points clear at the top of the table, and all is well with the world, after an apocalyptic three game run that saw them knocked off the top of the table and eliminated from the League Cup. There’s no middling emotions at Windsor Park.
The performance wasn’t great, Healy admitted it himself on Radio Ulster, but it’s a start, and a winning start.
The transition between managers wasn’t particularly smooth, which was surprising. I thought that it would have been business as usual until a permanent manager was appointed. I’d no objections with Andy Todd and Alfie Wylie taking charge, but it’s fair to say that didn’t work in the games against Glentoran and Ballinamallard.
I’d missed the opening minutes of Healy’s reign, due to traffic getting out of Newry. There wasn’t really much missed as Linfield struggled for long periods in the first-half.
In fact, it was Warrenpoint who looked the most likely to score.
Liam Bagnall fired a shot wide from a cross, while Daniel Hughes was put away and had the choice of shooting of passing to Nathan Murray or going for goal himself. He passed to Murray, but Ross Glendinning was able to rush out and make the save.
Hughes was in behind Linfield’s defence but was forced wide and had to cross. His cross was fired goalwards, albeit softly, by Stephen Moan, but was cleared off the line by Mark Stafford.
Like last Saturday against Glentoran, Linfield took the lead with their first real moment of quality. Again, it was Guy Bates who started it, when he found some space to cross for Adam Salley, coming into the team in place of the injured Andrew Waterworth.
The cross was cleared, but from the resulting phase of play, Kirk Millar’s low cross missed everybody in the middle, but landed straight to Aaron Burns at the far post to fire home.
It was undeserved, but Linfield were more than glad to take it.
Towards the end of the half, Salley had Linfield’s next chance, but his header was easily saved by Aaron Shanahan.
Linfield’s two previous visits to Warrenpoint had been uncomfortable and nervy, and this was no different, as Daniel Hughes had a shot saved by Glendinning.
Hughes was to get an even better chance to score when Warrenpoint were awarded a penalty. Hughes struck the penalty well, but struck it against the bar.
Linfield had a lucky escape, and they knew it.
Soon afterwards, they made the most of it, when a loose header back to Shanahan was intercepted by Guy Bates who got a slight touch on it, enough to see it into the back of the net.
There was always a fear that Warrenpoint might get one, they were never going to get two.
With the game won, Linfield now began to play better than they had, all their shackles were gone. A shot from Jamie Mulgrew fell to Guy Bates, who was fouled before he could get a shot in by Jordan Dane. The referee awarded a penalty and sent off Dane.
Aaron Burns fired it home to give the scoreline a more convincing look than the performance suggested.
It wasn’t all positive, as Terry Hayes found himself as busy in the second-half and Ross Glendinning was in the first-half, with players being brought off injured, or being subbed to avoid further injury.
Thankfully, the next match is seven days away, plenty of time to recover.
The fixture list has been kind to Healy, with games against Carrick and Dungannon coming up. Without sounding arrogant, that’s a run of games that maximum points should be gained from, ahead of a November schedule of Crusaders, Cliftonville, Glenavon and Portadown.
Crusaders 1-1 draw at Ballinamallard today saw Linfield go clear outright of a league table which is very congested at the top, with four points separating 1st place Linfield and 4th Coleraine.
Next Saturday’s fixture list is quite tasty, with Coleraine (4th) taking on Cliftonville (3rd) and Crusaders (2nd) facing Glenavon (5th, only 8 points off the top of the table)
You wouldn’t expect Linfield’s home match against Carrick to feature prominently in the build-up to the weekend’s games, hopefully that’ll be the case when the Sunday papers are reviewing the previous day’s actions, as a home defeat would grab all the headlines.
Teams around Linfield will drop points next weekend, that’s not for us to worry about, the concentration should only be on beating Carrick. You can only help yourself, everything else will take care of itself.
It wasn’t the best of performances today by Linfield, but you have to consider that David Healy only had one training session in preparation for this game. He’ll be glad to get it out of the way, have three points on the board, and have a full week to prepare for a game and get his ideas across in training.
The last two weeks have been a circus, one big distraction, between the uncertainty of Warren Feeney’s future, Warren Feeney leaving, speculation of Feeney’s successor, and then the appointment of David Healy.
As said earlier, I was surprised the transition between managers wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be.
That circus is now gone, it’s now a case of getting down to work.
One trophy may be gone, but there are still three to play for. Time to put the disruption behind us and start playing for them.