It was a case of history repeating for Linfield at Mourneview Park today, as they arrived in situations similar to both of their visits last season.
In November, they arrived on the back of home defeats to Cliftonville and Crusaders, and ground out a win to kickstart a run of 7 wins in 8 games going into the Christmas/New Year period.
In March, they arrived at Mourneview six points behind Crusaders, lost 1-0, a defeat which ended any slight chances of winning the league.
It’s fair to say that Mourneview Park is a ground that has provided mixed memories to Linfield fans in recent times.
Glenavon were equally in need of a win, kicking off eleven points behind Crusaders, after expectations were raised by last season’s storm to 3rd and a place in the UEFA Cup.
Their current position is explained by the fact that they’ve only amassed two points from five games against Crusaders, Cliftonville and Linfield.
There may be twelve teams in the league, but Glenavon and Linfield’s predicaments at kick-off showed that it’s the games against the teams around you that will dictate your fate.
It seemed all set up for a tense and cautious encounter, it was anything but.
Both teams had promising attacks early on, Eoin Bradley got space behind Linfield’s defence but dragged his shot wide on his left foot when a right foot shot looked the better option.
Linfield were getting a lot of possession out wide, lining up in a 4-3-3 when attacking, with Paul Smyth being given a first start after his cameo appearance off the bench last week.
Smyth got into some good positions and did basic stuff well. He wasn’t brilliant but wasn’t awful. A promising talent.
Glenavon soon took the lead from a counter attack when the ball went out wide to Eoin Bradley and he played a simple pass to give Daniel Kearns enough space to fire home.
There was no danger when Bradley had the ball, but everybody could see the run that Kearns was making. Everybody, except those on the pitch wearing Linfield shirts.
Thankfully, Linfield responded to the setback by going straight on the attack.
Andrew Waterworth looked like he was going to make it 1-1 when Aaron Burns played him through after a run. Unfortunately, Waterworth took a touch when a first time shot would have resulted in a goal, that split second gave Jonathan Tuffey enough time to get out and make the save.
Linfield were soon level when Jamie Mulgrew won possession when he was second favourite, creating enough space for him to shoot from outside the box and score.
Like the previous week, Linfield recovered from an early setback to draw level soon afterwards.
Linfield had a lot of possession and pressure in Glenavon’s half, but couldn’t go in 2-1 up.
They were reminded in the final minutes of the half that Glenavon could punish them at short notice, with Jimmy Callacher and Ross Glendinning forced into close range blocks to deny Glenavon.
Despite some good saves, someone needs to have a word with Glendinning about his quick throw-ins attempting to start a counter attack. On two occasions today, they resulted in Linfield losing possession in their defensive third, putting themselves under unnecessary pressure.
It worked brilliantly in the game against Glenavon in September for Waterworth’s first goal, but if there’s no obvious attack, just hold onto the ball and let attacking players get into position.
Inside the opening ten seconds of the second-half, Paul Smyth got in behind Glenavon’s defence, but his shot was saved by Tuffey, who was able to stick a leg onto it.
Linfield fans, for the first time in a while allowed to stand behind the goal at Mourneview after not being allowed to on health and safety grounds, thought their team were going 2-1 up.
Despite the positive start to the second-half, it was Glenavon who went 2-1 up in the early moments when a Joal Cooper cross went straight in.
Once again, another goal that could easily have been avoided. Daniel Kearns was left unmarked from a cross a minute earlier, and the resulting panic saw Glenavon win a corner, the resulting play resulted in Cooper being in a position to cross.
Like a cross not being stopped from getting to Jordan Owens two weeks ago, or Tomas Cosgrove getting too much space to cross last week, once again, Linfield were the architects of their own downfall.
Like in the first-half, Linfield responded instantly, when Jamie Mulgrew played in Kirk Millar to slot past Tuffey just two minutes later.
Still half an hour to play, Linfield were again level, and had foundations to go on and win the game.
With the score at 2-2, Linfield put Glenavon under pressure, corners and crosses mostly. You got the feeling if they went 3-2 up, they’d be able to go on and get the win.
With 15 minutes to go, it was Glenavon who went 3-2 up. Again, it was a self inflicted blow by Linfield.
Sean Ward misjudged the bounce of a ball and handled on the edge of the box. The resulting free-kick hit the post, rolled across the line, and Joel Cooper was first to react and out the ball into the empty net.
Having come back from 0-1 and 1-2, trying to come back at 2-3 was a goal too far for Linfield. For all their possession, Linfield never looked like getting a third equaliser.
It fact, Glenavon looked more likely to score a 4th on the counter attack.
After being quickest out the blocks, Linfield’s season has now hit a brick wall. A nine point gap from the top of the league has now emerged over the past three games. It won’t be retrieved if they win their next three games. It’s important to remember it’s a 38 game season.
Linfield didn’t win the league in August and didn’t lose it today. They’ve given themselves and uphill task to do so.
Despite playing poorly against Crusaders, Aaron Burns had a chance to equalise in injury time. Linfield deserved something last week, and Guy Bates had a chance to equalise in injury time. Linfield deserved something today but didn’t get it.
Games are decided by small margins. Disappointingly, all six goals conceded over the past fortnight have been poor and easily avoided.
Like last week, if Linfield had better decision making at both ends of the pitch, and scored when they were on top, they would have been celebrating three points.
Next week away to Portadown, is a must win. They all are at the best of times, especially more so with the current defecit.
Portadown are on a wretched run of form, but thankfully their losing run is over. Purely for the fact that I hate playing teams on a losing run. Sod’s Law and all that.
Hopefully, come 5pm next Saturday, Linfield’s losing run will be over.