Linfield ended February hoping to keep their title hopes alive and pull further clear of one of the sides below them to ensure automatic qualification for European competition, as Glenavon headed to Windsor Park, in one of the final games Linfield fans will watch from the North Stand. Not many will have seen a game quite like this.
There wasn’t a lot of action early on, as both sides cancelled each other. Joel Cooper got to the byline and fired in a cross that caused concern in Linfield’s defence, while Jimmy Callacher hit the bar with a shot after Sean Ward displayed some neat skills to create space to send in a cross.
Glenavon were looking dangerous on the break, and Declan O’Brien forced Ross Glendinning into a save that he could only parry, but thankfully Matthew Clarke was able to clear the danger by getting to the ball before the oncoming striker.
Soon after, Glendinning parried a long range shot, thankfully to a Linfield player. I’m not sure if the pitch at that end had something to do with it, but they were certainly two unnecessarily nervous moments.
Having already hit the bar, Jimmy Callacher was denied again, with his header going straight at Jonathan Tuffey.
Linfield were looking their most dangerous at set pieces, not really creating much from open play. Guy Bates wasn’t alert enough to score when the ball came to hit from a set piece.
Just as it looked like being 0-0 at half-time, Linfield got a penalty when a Reece Glendinning shot was blocked by a Glenavon defender’s hand.
Aaron Burns demanded he take the penalty instead of Ross Gaynor, winning that argument before putting the ball into the net. If he didn’t, he would have had a lot of questions to answer.
In the early minutes of the second-half, Glenavon had their best chance, when Linfield players misjudged a throughball which allowed Declan O’Brien to get in behind them, only to see Ross Glendinning rush off his line to narrow the angle and block the shot whenever it came.
Glendinning’s game, like the match itself, was to take a dramatic twist.
As Linfield attacked, Andrew Waterworth tried to find space in the penalty area., he is dispossessed, and Glenavon went straight onto the counter attack, similar to what Linfield did for their 1st goal when the sides met at Windsor Park in September.
Declan O’Brien was sent through on goal. Having come out of his line to block a shot earlier in the half, Glendinning was hesitent, and it proved fatal, giving O’Brien enough time and space to go around him, where he was then upended for a penalty.
There was no doubt it was a penalty, the only question was the colour of the card. Raymond Crangle was the referee, there was only going to be once colour – red, despite Mark Haughey heading towards his own goal to provide an obstacle for O’Brien should have he got past Glendinning without being fouled.
Haughey was soon to be finding himself on the goal line trying to keep out Glenavon when he was handed the goalkeeper’s jersey.
I’m not sure if it was an eventuality that was prepared for, or if it was simply because he was the closest player to Glendinning as he left the pitch, with both players swapping shirts.
Haughey was now dressed in a goalkeeper top with outfield shorts and sock combo, proper old school. All he needed to complete the look was a flatcap.
It wasn’t a great afternoon for Glendinning, having a few nervous moments, most notably punching out a free-kick unconvincingly in first-half stoppage time when Linfield were trying to see the game out.
I was at the opposite end of the pitch and couldn’t see who went in. I had to wait until Glendinning left to see the name on his back, which read HAUGHEY 5.
Haughey was put in nets due to the lack of a substitute goalkeeper on the bench. It is something I would have if I was a manager.
It’s easy to be wise after the event, but it was such a freak occurrence, the last Linfield goalkeeper to be sent-off was Wes Lamont in 1995, though Alan Mannus did go off injured to be replaced in goal by Michael Gault during a County Antrim Shield match in 2008.
Curiously, having a substitute goalkeeper was something Warren Feeney did for every game when he was Linfield manager. Like I say, it is easy to be wise after the event for an occurrence that is so rare.
Although not today, as Glentoran also had their goalkeeper sent-off today. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that must be the first time Linfield and Glentoran have had a goalkeeper sent-off on the same day.
Mark Haughey’s first job as a goalkeeper was to face a Kevin Braniff penalty, which he saved. It wasn’t quite the Kevin Braniff of old, he’s not quite as good as he once was.
Having won the game for Linfield when the sides met at Windsor Park in September, it looked like Mark Haughey was going to win the match for Linfield again, but maybe not in the way he would have expected.
David Healy responded by bringing on Paul Smyth for Guy Bates to play wide right with Aaron Burns playing in centre midfield to cover for Sean Ward who covered for Mark Haughey who was covering for Ross Glendinning.
Catch all that?
Bates wasn’t the only one leaving the pitch, as one of the officials was substituted, though sadly not Raymond Crangle. The Linesman left the pitch to be replaced by the 4th Official, the second time already such a thing has happened at Windsor Park in 2016.
Naturally, facing ten man with an outfield player in nets, Glenavon were keen to test Haughey, firing in crosses and attacking Linfield.
In truth, barring the penalty, Haughey didn’t really have much of an opportunity to showcase his goalkeeping skills, mostly cross catching.
Linfield backed off and invited Glenavon onto them, not making use of any possession they had in Glenavon’s half, desperately needing a second goal that would have killed off the game, despite only having ten men.
Despite the numerical advantage, Linfield were relatively comfortable at 1-0, Glenavon not really creating much in open play.
They would soon get a second opportunity to score from the penalty spot, with a spot kick being awarded for the ball hitting Reece Glendinning (with his back to play) somewhere, the TV footage was inconclusive.
Even allowing for the far fetched nature of the Irish League, there was no chance that an outfield player in nets was going to save two penalties, and so it proved, with Andy McGrory making it 1-1.
The goal made Linfield more attacking than they had been during the second-half, with both teams going for it in the final moments.
Mark Haughey was finally forced into a meaningful save when he tipped a goalbound header over the bar. Despite that, i’d prefer Gareth Deane to be in goals at Solitude next Saturday.
Andrew Waterworth had a glorious chance to win the game for Linfield in the final moments, but headed over from close range.
Waterworth then inadvertently got in the road to block a goalbound slice goalwards by a Glenavon player, and then Glenavon went straight on the counter-attack. It looked like being one of those days, but thankfully Linfield just about saw off that attack.
A draw was a fair result. Linfield were the most likely from set pieces, Glenavon from open play, though all three goalkeepers weren’t particularly busy during the day. The fact that both teams needed a penalty in which to score will back that up.
The worst part of this result came when all the other scores from today were digested. Crusaders drew 1-1 away to Warrenpoint. If Linfield had held on, they could have claimed to have made a point on Crusaders over a three game period.
We didn’t lose ground on Crusaders, but we’re at the stage of the season where we need to be making ground on them.
Linfield stayed six points clear of Glenavon, but it could have been nine.
They gained a point on Cliftonville, who lost at home to Coleraine, to be six points clear of them, although that could be anything between three and five as they travel to The Oval on Tuesday.
It’s an awful shame that they have a midweek game going into the Irish Cup tie next Saturday, isn’t it?
Of that cup tie, there’s no reason why Linfield can’t win. We’ll have to play better than we have today though.
We’ve let Cliftonville away with it in the two league games this season. To do so for a third time in the Irish Cup would be more than careless.