Whatever the result, today was going to be a milestone day for Linfield, though Linfield fans would be hoping that it would be simply that today was the 19th game of the season, marking the halfway point of the season, rather than the first time Linfield had lost five successive league games in so long, Statisticians don’t actually know.
Linfield went into the game with a free midweek following the postponement of the County Antrim Shield Semi-Final against Carrick. Linfield could have done with going into this game (assuming they actually got the win) with the boost of reaching a Final, albeit in a minor competition. On the flip side, it was probably good to go into a game against high flying opponents with a clear midweek.
Linfield made a poor start to the game, even taking into consideration the weather conditions. Coleraine had the most of the possession, and when Linfield got the ball, they would usually lose it straight away due to having a Coleraine player snapping away at them.
Linfield players didn’t help themselves, not managing the conditions. Jimmy Callacher almost cost a goal by trying to shepherd the ball out when it wasn’t going out, long balls and passes forward were being overhit.
Despite having most of the possession, Coleraine didn’t have many clear cut chances. The first one that came their way fell to Stephen Parkhill, but his goalbound shot was blocked by one of his own players, and when the ball came back to him, his weak shot was easily saved by Ross Glendinning.
The luck that had deserted Linfield in recent weeks had suddenly returned it seemed.
Ruairi Harkin had a shot that went wide after a break.
Linfield had their best moment when Guy Bates won possession and played it to Andrew Waterworth, but his first-time shot went wide.
Like in recent weeks, most of Linfield’s play came through Paul Smyth. They didn’t get the ball to him as much as they should have. In a game with little inspiration, every time Smyth got the ball, the crowd that something could be happening.
The only other attacking moment of note for Linfield came when Mark Stafford headed over from a corner.
A poor first-half, the only positive for Linfield was that they weren’t behind.
In the opening moments of the second-half, Linfield were already far more positive, having a penalty appeal turned down when Andrew Waterworth was challenged. It would have been soft if it was given.
Soon afterwards, Linfield took the lead when a corner was headed home by Jimmy Callacher.
Throughout the four game losing run, Linfield went 1-0 down in each game, and couldn’t recover the defecit. Now they had the lead, and you could see the boost in confidence.
Guy Bates had a chance to make it 2-0 but his shot went over. Back in August, it would have been blasted into the back of the net.
Coleraine didn’t offer much of an attacking threat once they went 1-0 down. That was, until, Ruairi Harkin won possession and broke free, but his cross was overhit and the shot that resulted from it was cleared off the line by Jimmy Callacher.
At any time over the past four weeks, that probably would have resulted in a goal. Perhaps Linfield’s luck was changing for the better.
Linfield needed a second goal, Jamie Mulgrew fired wide from the edge of the box as Linfield tried to get it. They had bitter recent experience of defending a lead at home to Coleraine.
Last season at home to Coleraine, they couldn’t see the game out, conceding an injury time equaliser. That led to Crusaders going top and giving them the momentum to win the title. Linfield’s results took a downward turn that day, dropping points against Ballinamallard, Cliftonville and Portadown over the next six weeks.
If Linfield had held on that day, perhaps the Gibson Cup would be residing at Windsor Park that day.
In the dying moments, Coleraine got a free-kick in the same position that Neil McCaffrey scored from last season. It was even at the same end of the pitch.
His free-kick hit the top of the crossbar and went over. Linfield fans began to allow themselves the believe that fortune was smiling on their team today.
The game wasn’t won yet, Coleraine had one last chance, with Ross Glendinning making a save from a Darren McAuley shot. Linfield were able to see out the danger from the resulting corner, and saw out the game to win 1-0.
Other results didn’t go in Linfield’s favour today. It wasn’t about plugging the gap on teams above us (well, apart from Coleraine, obviously), it was about ending the losing run, getting a win and getting back on track.
Ironically, Linfield played better in the last three games that they lost.
One day, we’ll get the playing well and winning balance right, but for now, it’s great to be spending a Saturday evening smiling after a Linfield win rather than bemoaning how hard done by we were.
Halfway through the season, Linfield face an uphill task to win the title, with a rotten run during November undoing all the good work between August and October.
The goals have dried up. Not just from Waterworth and Bates, but throughout the team. Remember, in the early months of the season, goals were coming throughout the team.
The lack of attacking options was clear to see on the subs bench, with three of the four outfield players named being defenders, albeit two that can play in midfield.
There were Irish Cup ties today, so that would logically suggest that the draw for the 5th Round, when Linfield enter, is coming soon.
My hope is an away tie to a lower league team whose ground i’ve never been to or haven’t been to for a while.
So, my wishlist is : Abbey Villa, Limavady United, Knockbreda, Moyola Park (not yet through) or Loughgall or Banbridge Town.
Talking of draws, unless I speed home from the home game against Ballinamallard next week and type at a similar speed, Northern Ireland’s fate will be decided when the Euro 2016 draw is done next Saturday by the next time I write a blog.
No easy games in Pot 1, but England would be nice for a local derby. Want to avoid France in the opening game due to extortionate ticket prices.
Russia/Ukraine look the weakest in Pot 2, while Hungary/Romania/Slovakia looks the weakest in Pot 3.
Hoping the opening match will be in Paris, Lille or Lens, and want to avoid Group F as it kicks off on the day I return home.
Keep an eye out who gets drawn as teams E3 and E4 as I have a ticket for that match on 13th June. How convenient it would be if it was Northern Ireland playing in that match.
Before the game, I got myself a ticket for Boxing Day (Season Tickets and Members only today, will sort out for friends when they go on General Sale next week)
To go with the Boxing Day tickets going on sale, next week sees the Radio Times Christmas Edition go on sale. The two biggest signs that Christmas is coming.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Wether it feels a lot like a Linfield revival, we’ll have to wait and see.