The last time Linfield visited Shamrock Park, in November, they left after a fourth successive defeat, their season in tatters.
Fast forward two and a half months, seven wins and a draw from the following eight games saw them return hoping to get the points on the board to try and mount an unlikely title challenge.
With Crusaders playing Glenavon, their would be points droppage either directly below or above them, or possibly both. Add in the fact that Cliftonville were inactive (in league terms) this weekend, this was a game that would be best decribed as “must win”
Linfield had a good early start, spending the early minutes in Portadown’s half. You got the sense that Linfield needed to score when they were on top.
Gradually, Portadown got more and more into the game, without creating any clear chances.
Neither team on top, it was a game where you felt the first goal was going to be key. Portadown would soon be getting a chance to take the lead, when Marcio Soares went down soft after a challenge from Mark Stafford, who he had nudged over a few seconds earlier.
Ross Glendinning in goal for Linfield was more concerned with appealing for a goal kick, believing Stafford to have played the ball off Soares.
To everyone’s astonishment, referee Arnold Hunter awarded a penalty to Portadown. It would be the first of many howling errors he would make during the game.
If it was a foul, then surely Mark Stafford should have been carded? Arnold Hunter couldn’t even get a wrong decision right.
After a long delay, Mark McAllister put Portadown 1-0 up. Just about, after Glendinning got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.
Looking for an equaliser, Linfield were hoping that Andrew Waterworth would be the man to get it for them. As he raced towards goal, he was recklessly scythed down by Michael Gault, showing the type of skills that has earned him a move to Crusaders.
It wasn’t even a late or misjudged tackle, it was a wild kick out purely designed to stop an attack before it advanced into Portadown’s final third. There was no attempt to win the ball. Amazingly, Arnold Hunter only deemed the challenge worthy of a yellow card.
1-0 up, we were treated to a masterclass in timewasting from Portadown. The harsh economic clinate has seen Portadown outsource their ballboy services to Linfield players, and goal kicks and throw ins took an age.
It’s not the fact that teams do it that’s the problem, it’s the fact that teams get away with it, aided by referees who are too dumb and/or incompetent to notice they are being made mugs of.
Fans don’t spend a tenner to watch teams taking ages over dead ball situations, we spend our tenners to watch football.
Two minutes of added time were added on, Portadown spent at least thirty seconds wasting time on a throw in during this. The half ended on 47 minutes and 11 seconds with Linfield having a corner.
I’m not suggesting that Linfield would have scored that corner, but it would have been nice to have gotten the chance to see.
When Linfield are playing away from home, and attacking their fans, you always get a feeling a goal will come, regardless of how the game was going. Linfield fans were hoping that attacking their fans in the Armagh Road End would inspire their team to turn the situation around.
Jimmy Callacher went wide from a corner in the early minutes of the second-half. A few minutes later, a poor clearance fell to Ross Gaynor on halfway for Andrew Waterworth to chase, but David Miskelly was out of his goal to gather the ball and deny him.
Miskelly was aided by the fact he was able to gather the ball outside his penalty area. Never a red card, but as clear a free-kick you will see.
You’ve probably guessed by Arnold Hunter’s previous form, he waved play on.
Michael McLellan came off the bench for Kirk Millar. It would be kind to say it didn’t happen for Millar. It didn’t happen for any of Linfield’s attackers, despite the number of attacks and chances.
Philip Lowry soon made it 2-0 with a header from a soft free-kick, that looked to be it.
You still had to hope. There was still time left, and you got the feeling Portadown could capitulate if Linfield could get a quick goal.
Michael McLellan had a chance when the ball fell to him in the penalty area, but he sliced his shot wide.
Portadown thought they had made it 3-0 with a goalbound header that was cleared on the line, only to see a free-kick awarded for a handball by Ken Oman, which resulted in him getting a second yellow card.
The game restarted with him still on the pitch, only for the referee to realise he was still walking off the pitch.
Linfield soon had hope when Matthew Clarke slide the ball home. Clarke had a shooting free-kick in injury time but elected to pass to Jamie Mulgrew for a cross. It would have been a good move if it had worked. It didn’t work.
Five minutes of injury time was indicated, one minute of which was spent by Portadown wasting time at a throw-in.
The game ended on 95 minutes and 14 seconds with Linfield getting ready to take a corner. Like in the first-half, Linfield might not have scored, but it would have been nice to have seen if they could, considering there was a stoppage in injury time.
The game had ended in total farce.
Talking of farces, you might have seen it all over the news the kerfuffle of the allocation of tickets for Northern Ireland’s games ta Euro 2016.
I only applied for Poland, as it’s the only game i’m going out for. I got an e-mail on Tuesday to say my application was unsuccessful.
Due to it being in a relatively small stadium, I calculated I might have been on the border of the cut-off point. I thought I was just unlucky. I was offline and in a news bubble for most of Tuesday, and didn’t realise what had actually happened.
Hopefully, those who missed out get sorted in the coming weeks.
Thankfully, i’m able to get a ticket through a friend, so the situation is retrieved. I’m 99.9% certain of being in the Allianz Riviera on 12th June.
From the Allianz Riviera to the Ulster Riviera (that is what Coleraine is known as?) and it’s a trip to Coleraine for Linfield next. A win against Coleraine started the impressive Winter run of form, so why not have history repeat itself.
This definitely is a must win, with Crusaders playing Cliftonville. There will be points droppage around us next week (hopefully both teams) just like there was last night when Crusaders and Glenavon drew, which makes the result even more frustrating.
Despite not playing that well, Linfield still had enough chances and attacks to get something from the game. We didn’t help ourselves, nor were we helped by competent officialdom.
It’s gone, and it’s all about looking forward, with a big run of games coming up.
The home match against Glentoran on 12th March is anticipated to be the day that the South Stand becomes fully operational for Linfield fans.
Hopefully, we’ll be going into that game with six more points behind us and an Irish Cup Semi-Final to look forward to.