After last week’s disappointment against Crusaders, Linfield welcomed another North Belfast side, Cliftonville, to Windsor Park
Linfield had some good early play in the opening minutes, but not chances. Once Cliftonville got a foot in the game, they created their first chance and took it, when Jay Donnelly saved a wayward cross going out of play, and from the resulting play, snuck in past Guy Bates who had switched off and won a corner.
From the resulting corner, a handball by Mark Haughey gave Cliftonville a penalty, which was finised, only just, by Davy McDaid.
Linfield’s thankfully didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They didn’t have many chances straight away, but had a lot of possession and build-up. On 20 minutes, Andrew Waterworth fired home the first time he was able to get some space in Cliftonville’s final third to make it 1-1.
Soom afterwards, Guy Bates got some space in Cliftonville’s penalty and his shot was spilled by Conor Devlin. None of Linfield’s attackers took a gamble on a follow-up. If they did, they would have had an open net.
For the rest of the half, Linfield had a lot of possession but weren’t able to convert that into chances.
The second-half continued in the same manner, with an Andrew Waterworth cross causing concern for Cliftonville, but like Guy Bates shot in the first-half, none of Linfield’s attackers gambled when a goal would have resulted if they did.
Linfield were given a warning that Cliftonville still posed an attacking threat when Chris Curran fired wide.
Andrew Waterworth thought he had given Linfield the lead but his header hit the top of the crossbar, but he was flagged offside anyway.
Waterworth was involved again soon afterwards when his shot was going wide, but Kirk Millar was unable to get a foot on it to divert it in.
Linfield were having a lot of possession but not making it count, and were given another warning when Ross Glendinning had to rush out of goal to get to the ball before Jay Donnelly.
Donnelly was soon to get the better of Glendinning when he fired home to put Cliftonville. It was undeserved, but questions have to be asked why two Linfield players on the left hand side failed to cut out the cross.
Linfield responded by bringing on attacking subs in the shape of Aaron Burns and Paul Smyth. Smyth is a young player who made his debut in the County Antrim Shield match against Newington earlier in the season. One of David Healy’s first acts as Linfield manager was to sign him up to be a part of the first team squad.
He didn’t do a lot wrong and showed some nice touches. He saw a lot of the ball as Linfield seem to adopt a policy of always playing the ball along the North Stand. As Linfield were attacking The Kop, the right sided player was always going to see a lot of the ball.
Guy Bates fired over after a scramble, while David Kee fired wide after a stray punch by Conor Devlin. Every time the ball bounced, it seemed to land straight at a Cliftonville player.
The danger of being caught on the counter attack could not be ignored, with Mark Haughey forced to make a last gasp tackle to deny Stephen Garrett, who broke away after Sean Ward lost possession.
In injury time, Guy Bates had Linfield’s last chance, but his header was straight at Devlin. Either side, and it was 2-2.
On such small margins are games decided. A far better performance than last week, but the same outcome. Linfield are now in 3rd, 6 points behind Crusaders and 1 point behind Cliftonville and level with Coleraine.
Even more frustrating, is the fact that at no point did I think Linfield were going to lose the game today, eben when going 0-1 and 1-2 down.
A few weeks earlier last season, Linfield had home defeat to Crusaders and Cliftonville (in the other order) before going to Glenavon and grinding out a win on a horrible day. Players and fans were together as one, and the win was the springboard for 22 points from 24 for the rest of the year.
As fate would have it, the fixture computer has dealt Linfield an away trip to Glenavon next Saturday. A similar run of results now the minimum requirement after these two setbacks.