After a stormy October, Linfield began a big month of matches in November with a home match against Crusaders, with both sides level on points and seperated by one goal at the top of the league.
The match got off to an explosive start, with referee Raymond Crangle getting hit in the balls by a pass forward. Sadly, it was to be the highlight of the game. And it wasn’t even that hard.
There was still less than sixty seconds on the clock when the game had it’s first attacking moment whenever Paul Heatley ghosted past a couple of Linfield defenders to create space for himself at the edge of the box, but dragged his shot wide.
Linfield were able to get the ball wide in the early stages, usually Guy Bates starting all their attacks. Despite being able to get some crosses into the box, there was nobody on the end of them. They caused concern for Crusaders but no more. They were never in a situation of panic.
Linfield had the first corner of the game. Curiously, all their corners were outswingers, possibly to avoid Crusaders players in the six yard box. They never really made much of any of them. The only one that came close to working was a Jimmy Callacher header that went wide.
Through most of the first-half, it was defences on top. The best either side could manage was territorial possession.
When it look like going in at half-time 0-0, Crusaders took the lead when a speculative ball into the box wasn’t fully cleared by Mark Haughey, and the ball fell for Jordan Owens, who volleyed home.
Within minutes, Jordan Forsythe fired wide as Crusaders aimed to repeat their quickfire double that got them the points in October last season.
1-0 up, this was the cue for Crusaders to take an age at dead balls, as Sean O’Neill walks to a ball that has gone out for a goal kick, despite a ballboy being beside him with a ball, referee Raymond Crangle watches on and does nothing. O’Neill made a mug of him at every goal kick. If there’s a referee who can easily be made a mug of, it’s Raymond Crangle.
If Linfield were to retrieve the situation in the second-half, they weren’t going to have a lot of game time in which to do it.
Crangle even managed to miss a foul on Ivan Sproule early in the second-half as he ran in to chase a through ball and run in on goal. Thankfully, the linesman didn’t. A yellow card was awarded for a foul.
Also awarded a yellow card was Mark Haughey for what can be best described as a tactical foul on Paul Heatley. Crusaders players were outraged. The irony.
Ivan Sproule finally did make it in behind Crusaders defence but dithered when running through on goal and was tackled.
Andrew Watwerworth didn’t see much of the ball. When he was able to get past his man, the ball didn’t bounce for him. As he battled for possession on the edge of the box, he was taken out with the ball in mid air. The referee waved for play on. Sadly, this is the standard we’ve come to expect from Raymond Crangle.
Crusaders almost made it 2-0 when Heatley saw his shot saved by Ross Glendinning. Earlier in the attack, Sean Ward shamefully lapped out of a tackle.
Kirk Millar came on for Ivan Sproule, but like the rest of Linfield’s attacking players, didn’t get much of a sight on goal.
In the final ten minutes, Niall Quinn got in behind Crusaders defence. A cross or a shot would surely have resulted in a goal. He did neither and fired straight at O’Neill.
Linfield had one final chance in injury time when Aaron Burns fired against the crossbar in a crowded penalty area.
There was no grandstand finish, no backs to the wall for Crusaders. In truth, Linfield never looked like scoring. Despite coming from behind to get results against Glenavon and Cliftonville this season, Linfield were unable to do so today.
The result means that Linfield are three points behind Crusaders in second, two ahead of Cliftonville in third and three ahead of Coleraine in fourth. It’s all getting very congested at the top of the table. Results need to pick up over coming weeks in order to avoid being cut adrift going into December.
The goals which flowed so freely in the early weeks of the season have now started to dry up. Linfield don’t need to recreate that form, they just need to make better decisions and have better movement at both ends of the pitch.
Windsor Park is where i’ll be spending a lot of time next weekend, as i’ll be attending the Northern Ireland v Latvia friendly on Friday night.
The match is about celebrating Northern Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2016 (seven months and three days away. Did I mention I have a ticket for a Group E match on 13th June?) and giving players games and getting prepared for the competition.
The result isn’t really that important. The result when I return seventeen hours later to see Linfield take on Cliftonville will be a lot more important.