Boxing Day when the year ends in 5 is usually memorable. 1995 was all about a white ball and snow, while 2005 saw Linfield record their biggest win in the annual fixture.
2015 would be end to end and dramatic, and that was before a ball was kicked, as kick-off was delayed until 4pm in order for water to be cleared off the pitch to make the pitch playable and avoid a postponement as the internet became filled with rumours that it would be postponed and pass a pitch inspection at the same time.
Just after 3pm, when the action should have been starting, came confirmation that the pitch was playable and the match was on.
Supporters who had waited all year now had to wait an extra hour for the game to start, and another ninety minutes to see if it was worth the wait.
We shall see in 721 days time, but this could be the last Boxing Day encounter at The Oval as we currently know it, with the stadium being recently approved for funding for redevelopment work.
The state of The Oval in 2017 wasn’t of interest to anyone, it was the state of the Linfield team of 2015 that matter to those in the City End, with the team ending the year in not as good shape as they began it.
Though, they were ending the month in a much better state than they started it.
Inside the first five minutes, Jimmy Callacher was already covered in muck. It was a day when you had to get dirty in order to win.
Linfield had the better of the early exchanges, with a Matthew Clarke cross being cleared when the attack looked to be getting dangerous.
Niall Quinn cut in and fired a shot goalwards which was deflected over the bar. Linfield were getting a lot of joy down their left hand side in the first-half between Clarke and Quinn. Paul Smyth was even helping out and joining the party.
Linfield were having the better of the play but had to be wary of Glentoran’s attacks, as Curtis Allen had a free-kick tipped over by Ross Glendinning.
Linfield had their own free-kick which didn’t quite work, as Kirk Millar set up Niall Quinn, only to be dispossessed and then foul his opponent.
Linfield had more pressure on Glentoran’s goal, Jamie Mulgrew shooting wide, Sean Ward hitting a long range shot against the bar and Kirk Millar having his shot saved when he had a brief glimpse of goal.
Glentoran replied with Curtis Allen and Jay Magee having headers wide, before Glentoran heads were needed in their own penalty area when Andrew Waterworth’s goalbound shot was headed off the line.
As half-time approached, Linfield took the lead from a Niall Quinn free-kick.
At the other end of the pitch, the view is never great at The Oval. I wasn’t quite sure what happened. A glance at TV replays showed it went through the goalkeeper’s hands. A belated Christmas present that Linfield were more than happy to accept.
Having got a lot of joy down the left in the first-half, it was all about the right sided players in the second-half, with Kirk Millar and Paul Smyth, assisted by Andrew Waterworth, were making it happen for Linfield in an attacking sense.
Smyth had the beating if his man. He knew it, and every Linfield player knew it, getting the ball to him at every opportunity.
It was down the middle though, came the chance to make it 2-0, when Waterworth won possession clean through but couldn’t finish.
It wasn’t long before it was 2-0, when Smyth got the the byline, cut back, and saw his cross/shot deflected into the net.
The goal had been coming, not just in this game but in Smyth’s career. Hopefully, it will be the first of many for him in a blue shirt.
Just as Linfield fans were looking forward to the rare prospect of a nice nerve free final half hour of a match against Glentoran, The Glens struck back within a minute, when a cross was fired home by Jonathan Smith from close range.
Linfield needed a third goal and had chances to get it though Andrew Waterworth and Niall Quinn.
Curtis Allen, who got a late equaliser when the sides met in October, headed over with five minutes to go.
That was it for Glentoran. Nobody would say it out loud though. Football fans are a superstitious bunch who don’t dare tempt fate.
Linfield were able to hold onto possession, and in Glentoran’s defensive third, where they couldn’t do any damage, and got the 2-1 win, the 4th successive year they had won this fixture by that scoreline.
Linfield ended an eventful, but ultimately disappointing (which is a bit of an understatement) on a winning note.
Like at Ballymena, players and fans celebrated together at full-time.
As well as Christmas tradition and local bragging rights, this was a big result for Linfield in terms of the league table as a result of today’s other results.
Coleraine and Glenavon, just below Linfield, both won, while Crusaders and Cliftonville drew. Linfield are now one point behind Cliftonville and nine behind Crusaders, though both teams have a game in hand.
Linfield host Crusaders on New Year’s Day, knowing that a win could reduce the gap at the top of the league to six points. There might even be talk of a title challenge.
There’s never any middle ground when it comes to Linfield, everything is either brilliant or falling apart. It would be nice to have some positive ridiculousness on Friday compared to the ridiculousness that followed in November.
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