Linfield ended the month with their fourth game of the month at Windsor Park (it would have been their fifth if it wasn’t for the postponement against Dungannon Swifts), hoping that it would be better than the third game of the month, the County Antrim Shield Final.
Linfield were quick on the attack and took the lead from their first set piece, a corner which was cleared, but Kirk Millar made the most of his second opportunity to play the ball in, for Mark Stafford to head home from close range.
It was the early goal that Linfield didn’t get when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Carrick in October.
Within minutes, it should have been 2-0, when Paul Smyth got in behind Carrick’s defence, only to find his shot saved by Carrick’s goalkeeper.
Soon after, Ross Gaynor fired over from close range unmarked after a cross. The game could have been over before it had even begun.
Sean Ward headed over from a corner a couple of minute later.
Linfield needed a second goal, and it wasn’t long in coming. A series of short and quick passes saw the ball go from centre of defence to Ross Gaynor on the left wing to cross for Andrew Waterworth to touch the ball home.
That wasn’t the end of the first-half action, as Ross Gaynor had a goal disallowed for offside. It was all one way traffic.
Naturally, the second-half was a non event. Linfield just had to make sure they kept Carrick and didn’t ancourage them back into the game.
Bar a flurry of corners, Linfield’s defence had a quiet afternoon.
The main talking point of the second-half was a two footed tackle by Conor McCluskey on Mark Stafford which only got him a yellow card.
I was at the other end of the ground and didn’t realise how bad it was until I saw the TV footage, a very poor decision to only award a yellow card. And that’s me being polite.
The only thing you could say in the referee’s defence, was that he got distracted by the melee which followed and his judgement would have been affected by having to deal with two incidents at the same time. It wasn’t. He had his yellow card out ready to show whenever both sets of players were squaring up to each other.
Having scored his first goal for Linfield last week, Ross Gaynor was played through by Jamie Mulgrew and looked set to score his first goal at Windsor Park, only to find his shot was saved.
If Linfield had got a third goal, we would have seen the introduction of some new signings off the bench. They did come, but a bit later than hoped.
Michael McLellan came on for Paul Smyth, having scored a lot of goals in not a lot of games for Harland and Wolff Welders. Hopefully, an away pre-seasom friendly is part of the deal.
With the game won, the attacking wasn’t as intense as it would have been earlier, so he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase his abilities.
He got more than Stephen Fallon, who got the final minute of injury time.
Not the most exciting game, but that’s not a complaint. Carrick at home is the sort of game you should get the result and move on to the next game (even though Linfield didn’t actually do that in October)
That next game, is Dungannon Swifts at home, and an opportunity to go to within six points of Crusaders, with Crusaders facing Glenavon and Cliftonville in the next two matchdays, and Cliftonville not playing a league match until 20th February.
Three league wins in a row, three clean sheets and progress in the Irish Cup. Not a bad start to the year. County Antrim Shield would have been nice but it’s the League and Cup that matter.
Hopefully, February (and March, April and May) will be more of the same.