After three successive defeats, Linfield hoped to end their Monthus Horribilus, as they say in Latin, with a win, away to Portadown.
The game took place in conditions similar to the Irish Cup tie in February, non stop swirling wind and rain.
The early moments saw Ross Glendinning have a couple of hesitant moments with balls into the penalty area, with defenders having to clear the ball for him when he should have been claiming the ball. On one of those occasions, Darren Murray got to the ball before him, but Glendinning was able to get a hand on it before Murray could shoot.
Murray also had a header go over, giving Linfield a warning that he is a threat that can’t be ignored.
Linfield reverted back to 4-4-2 after playing 4-3-3 last week, with youngster Paul Smyth keeping his place. Smyth had Linfield’s best chance in the first-half, but his left foot shot was saved when it looked like a right foot shot was the best option.
Even allowing for the weather, it wasn’t a good game. A big improvement was needed in the second-half.
Linfield almost got an early goal in the second-half when Paul Smyth pulled back to Andrew Waterworth, whose shot was cleared off the goal line by Ross Redman. Less than a minute later, Redman was able to create too much space for himself in Linfield’s half and play it across to Chris Casement to fire home and put Portadown 1-0 up.
If ever a passage of play summed the past month, that was it.
Like against Cliftonville and Glenavon in the previous two weeks, Linfield responded well to going behind and had chances. Like in those aforementioned two games, they couldn’t take the chances that came their way.
Jimmy Callacher had a shot cleared off the line, Kirk Millar fired straight at the keeper while Andrew Waterworth header over from a cross when he would have scored if he had got it on target.
Everytime the ball bounced in the penalty area, it landed at a Portadown foot. It wasn’t luck, Linfield players weren’t gambling to get into positions.
At both ends of the pitch, Portadown were always first to the second ball.
It wasn’t all Linfield, Portadown were dangerous on the counter attack.
Mark Stafford saw a shot saved while Andrew Waterworth got in behind Portadown’s defence and shot straight at the keeper when he had two passing options that would have resulted in a goal.
As injury time approached, Portadown broke away with Gary Twigg squaring it to Marcio Soares who made it 2-0. As the ball hit the back of the net, a supporter behind me remarked “See! that’s how you do it”
It was as damming as it was true. Equally as damming was the fact that the only attacking player taking the game by the scruff of the neck and trying to make things happen was a teenager with less than ten appearances.
This game also exposed the lack of depth in Linfield’s squad, with no striker on the bench, having to resort to playing a wide man “in the hole” when making an attacking change.
Even looking back to five years ago, you would have had two of Curtis Allen, Paul Munster and Mark McAllister on the bench. Seeing them warming up when chasing a goal would have filled you with confidence. Looking at Linfield’s bench in recent weeks, there hasn’t been anybody warming up that made you think they would change the game.
Once again, Linfield paid for poor decision making at both ends of the pitch. If Linfield had went 1-0 up early in the second-half, they probably would have went on to comfortably win the game. If they had made it 1-1 at any point in the second-half, they probably would have won the game.
If is the biggest word in football, and Linfield fans are saying it far too many times these days.
Suddenly, the County Antrim Shield semi-final against Carrick Rangers (weather permitting, Carrick’s home game today was postponed) is a lot bigger than a minor regional competition should be.
Linfield fans will be glad to know that Tuesday’s date is 1st December, today being the final game of a rotten month.
Hopefully, by the time Linfield fans are opening the sixth window of their advent calendar, they’ll be looking forward to the County Antrim Shield final and celebrating their first league win in four games.
That won’t be easy, as 2nd place Coleraine arrive at Windsor Park next Saturday.
Twelve points off the top, even the most optimistic of supporters will have to concede the title is an uphill task. There is still a lot to play for, with European football to secure, and don’t forget, if we don’t win the league, the Irish Cup will do.
Today’s result was the first time Linfield had lost four successive league games since 1997, when they were struggling under a new manager.
It was a year Glentoran sacked their manager, Windsor Park was getting renovated, Crusaders won the league, TFI Friday was on TV and U2 did a concert in Belfast. This all feels a bit familiar. Thankfully, it did end up having a happier resolution over the next ten years.
A recent trend in recent matches has been a group called Blue Unity, aimed at improving atmosphere at matches. One chant they have introduced is their version of a Slade classic “We are the Linfield boys, you’ll know us by noise, we go wild wild wild”
Sadly, recent events on the field haven’t given them a chance to go wild wild wild.