Meetings between Coleraine and Linfield in recent seasons usually had a recurring theme. In five of the previous seven seasons since the current 38 game format was introduced, Linfield won the first two meetings, but stumbled in the third meeting, losing in 2008-2009, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, while drawing in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.
Linfield were hoping to make it three out of three, not to achieve some sort of milestone, but to put pressure on Crusaders and/or move further away from Cliftonville, with both sides facing each other this afternoon in The Big Two derby according to Crusaders Twitter account this morning, managing the impressive feat of “attempting a banter” and then ended up the punchline.
The match got off to an eventful start, with Ruaidhri Higgins heading wide from a free-kick. From where I was sat (on the halfway line) I thought it was going in. It probably should have went in.
Linfield then went up the pitch and hit the bar from an Aaron Burns shot. Coleraine then went up the pitch when Ian Parkhill headed home from a corner. All this with only four minutes on the clock.
Coleraine had made the better start and were looking to make the most of it, Ruairi Higgins tested Ross Glendinning from long range, before Brad Lyons was able to get space, too much space as players backed off to fire home from long range and put Coleraine 2-0 up after 13 minutes.
The game was only taking place after passing a pitch inspection at 11am. Linfield fans were wishing it hadn’t, with their side staring at a second successive defeat.
Linfield had no rhythm at all, playing against the wind, goal kicks were even hitting the halfway line, and passes going astray. Linfield players were struggling to find each other, which was surprising considering the brightness of their away kit.
It was all too easy for Coleraine, and it was with ease that they got through Linfield, having an attack which saw a two on one situation, the pass coming from the left wing position to James McLaughlin, through on goal.
Linfield supporters were resigned to going 3-0 down, but to everyone’s surprise, he blasted it over.
It should have been 3-0, it could end up being a turning point. It would only have been a turning point if Linfield get back into the game.
That miss brought back memories of a game in December 2013 when Coleraine missed a glorious opportunity (a penalty) at 0-0, and then Linfield scored a few minutes later. Little did I know, history would soon be repeating itself.
Within minutes, Linfield were back in the game, with a header from Aaron Burns, who also scored in the aforementioned game in 2013. Suddenly, Linfield’s tails were up, though it didn’t stop them going in at half-time trailing 2-1.
Despite being behind, it seemed like the game had swung in Linfield’s favour. The weather was in their favour, but they also had another force of nature going their way – they were attacking their fans behind the goal.
In the early minutes of the second-half, Coleraine’s goalkeeper had two kick outs that went out for a throw-in in their defensive third. At that moment, I just knew Linfield wouldn’t be losing the game. Coleraine had the look of a team who knew their best chance of winning was to keep Linfield out rather than score a third.
Jamie Mulgrew burst forward and had two strikes on goal. Linfield were getting closer and it felt like a goal was inevitable. There wasn’t long to wait, as a deep cross was headed back by Andrew Waterworth to Mark Haughey, who headed home to make it 2-2.
Soon afterwards, Paul Smyth fired wide from a wide angle, before he moved wide as Guy Bates came off the bench for Kirk Millar.
Linfield had a lot of pressure on Coleraine’s goal, but were largely frustrated, as goalward shots usually saw a Coleraine defender in the road.
The game calmed down, with the game in the balance, there for the taking. Both teams sensed victory could be theirs.
In recent years, Linfield have come from 2-0 down at Coleraine, but couldn’t leave with the three points, getting a 2-2 draw in 2009, and seeing their good work undone in a 3-2 defeat in 2012. They were hoping this would be third time lucky.
Smyth left the action to be replaced by Niall Quinn. Surprisingly, in my opinion, as I would have went with Stephen Fallon to come on in a straight swap.
Michael McLellan came on for Sean Ward with not long left, with Linfield getting ready to take an attacking free-kick.
From that free-kick, Linfield scored. It wasn’t for McLellan, it was hard to see who, with all the players celebrating in the goal. It turned out to be Mark Haughey.
Thankfully, Linfield were able to see the game out, and get a vital three points ahead of a vital run of upcoming games against Glenavon (4th), Cliftonville (Irish Cup), Glentoran (shower) and Cliftonville (3rd)
Coming from 2-0 down away from home on a horrible pitch in horrible weather is the sort of game that pundits say wins titles. The league table suggests that it won’t.
We were always going to get some result going in our favour at Seaview today, the ideal result would have been a draw. Crusaders won 1-0 meaning they are seven points clear of Linfield (with a game in hand) while Cliftonville are now five points behind Linfield, also with a game in hand.
Curiously, Cliftonville’s game in hand, away to Glentoran, has been scheduled for Tuesday 1st March, the midweek before Linfield’s visit to Solitude in the Irish Cup. Wouldn’t it be awful if the pitch was particularly energy sapping that night, and they dropped points?
Next Saturday, sees Linfield take on Glenavon, knowing that a win will send them nine points clear of their visitors. This game will be the last one that Linfield fans will be using the North Stand, as they prepare to use the South Stand from March onwards. Three points would be a nice send-off.
Other games next Saturday are interesting, with Cliftonville taking on Coleraine and Crusaders travelling to Warrenpoint.
Not long ago, you would have considered that game at Milltown to be a routine away win, but now Warrenpoint are on such a good run of form, they’re thinking about making a late title charge.
There is potential points droppage to be had by the North Belfast clubs. The important thing is, Linfield help themselves, everything else will be a bonus.