Linfield celebrated their 130th anniversary this week, welcoming Glentoran to Windsor Park, hoping to get a win against their rivals throughout those 130 years.
Glentoran are usually the visitors to Windsor Park for milestone occasions, a 1-0 win for Linfield was the first game at Windsor Park in 1905, while a 2-0 win for Glentoran was the last league game at the venue before the current redevelopment.
This was supposed to be the first game for Linfield fans in the South Stand, but that was delayed, meaning they would be in the North Stand, their home for the last eighteen months, for what will probably be the last time.
Forgetting all the sentiment, today was all about getting three points for Linfield, to help Linfield’s aim of qualifying for Europe next season.
Linfield went straight on the attack, spending the early moments in Glentoran’s half. They almost got an early goal when a cross to Michael McLellan was overhit, but he challenged for the ball, causing Elliott Morris to miss it.
McLellan chased after the ball to set himself up for a shot, before Ross Gaynor took over (he was in a better position to shoot) and had his shot saved by Morris, which was headed home by Andrew Waterworth, only to see the effort ruled out for offside.
McLellan was in for Paul Smyth, who was suspended. Surprisingly perhaps, considering that Guy Bates had been on the bench ahead of McLellan today.
McLellan got into a lot of good positions and had some bright ideas, but it generally didn’t happen for him today.
Waterworth’s disallowed goal was followed by a flurry of Linfield corners, with Glentoran having to get bodies in the way to block when Linfeild players had the ball.
Whenever Glentoran players had the ball, it wasn’t for long, as Linfield players were usually snapping in to win the ball and go straight on the attack. More often than not, it was Jamie Mulgrew winning the ball.
Most of Linfield’s attacking play involved getting the ball to Ross Gaynor as much as possible. A sound idea, as he was winning every battle he was having with Barry Holland.
It was now just a matter of time before Linfield went in front, and it came from the penalty spot after a handball in the box.
With Aaron Burns on the substitutes bench, there was no arguement as to who would take it, Ross Gaynor firing home to put Linfield in front.
Soon after, Andrew Waterworth was able to break free and run towards goal, but Elliott Morris was quickly out to deny him a clear shooting opportunity.
Mark Stafford headed over the bar as Linfield looked for the seond goal that would kill the game.
Many times, during the Coyle/Jeffrey Era, Linfield would be outplaying Glentoran and have a 1-0 lead, yet would somehow let them away with it. Especially if it was a 1-0 half-time lead.
Today, there was never a fear of that happening.
Despite dominating the game, a 1-0 lead is still precious. Linfield were given a warning in the early minutes of the second-half when Fra McCaffrey headed wide from close ranger when he should have scored.
Glentoran had offered more as an attacking force in the early minutes of the second-half than in the whole of the first-half. Thankfully, Linfield were able to ride that out.
Glentoran were trying to pass it out from the back, but not doing it well, all too often starting a Linfield attack with a misplaced pass in their own half, though Linfield were unable to take advantage of these gifts.
Andrew Waterworth managed to get some space in the box before firing straight at Morris, before doing likewise when shooting from a wide angle later on.
Guy Bates, on as a substitute, headed over as Linfield desperately searched for a second goal.
Their task got a bit easier when Calum Birney was sent-off for a second booking.
Eventually, Glentoran’s sloppy passing was punished when Morris only cleared it as far as Aaron Burns, on as a substitute, to fire home.
That was it, the game was won.
David Healy used the opportunity to bring on Stephen Lowry for the final moments as he recovers from injury. Despite not being on the pitch a long time, he had time to set up Ross Gaynor with his second of the game in injury time to make it 3-0.
Inbetween those goals, Chris Morrow hit the bar for Glentoran. It was their only effort on goal of note.
The biggest thing to take from today’s game was that nobody noticed that Linfield were missing Paul Smyth and Jimmy Callacher, both absent through suspension. I’m not sure which team that reflected on the most.
Both will be back for the trip to Solitude next week, and Stephen Lowry setting out on the road to recovery, there’s a lot of options for Linfield to choose from. For the first time in a long time, Linfield now have a strong bench of players who can win a game.
Other results today went in Linfield’s favour. Crusaders were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Ballymena United, the assistance of Agent Jeffrey (The Irish League era of no Coyle, Jeffrey or McFall I wrote about last week only lasted for a whopping two days) being gratefully received. If he fancies taking charge of Carrick Rangers for the next ten days, that would be great.
With games against Cliftonville and Glenavon to come before the split, hopefully Jeffrey can inspire an unbeaten start to his first couple of games at Ballymena.
Elsewhere, Cliftonville were held to a 2-2 draw by Dungannon Swifts. This means Linfield have a five point gap over Cliftonville in the race for Europe. It could be eight next week if Linfield win at Solitude.
Whilst Linfield have ambitions of overtaking Crusaders, it will be nice to launch that attack not having to worry about teams below us.
Crusaders gap has been cut to five points, albeit with a game in hand. That game is against Carrick Rangers (they actually play them away twice in four days) which you would expect them to win.
Though, Carrick have got points against Linfield, Cliftonville and Glenavon, so maybe they are due one against Crusaders.
We can hope. The important thing is, that Linfield help themselves, and put Crusaders under as much pressure as possible.
Elsewhere, the details of the arrangements for the Irish Cup Semi-Finals were confirmed this week. Last week, i’d written about the choice of venues being wrong. Linfield v Lurgan Celtic should be at Mourneview Park while Glenavon v Crusaders should be at The Oval.
Well, the arrangements have just got farcical. The prices for tickets were announced as £15. Yes, you read that right – £15.
In 2013, I was in Glasgow one weekend, and took in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final between Falkirk and Hibs for £15.
£15 is good value for a Scottish Cup Semi-Final. It is not good value for an Irish Cup Semi-Final.
At the moment, i’m going to give the game against Lurgan Celtic a miss. My view may change between now and 1st April, but as it stands, i’ll give this game a miss.
To add insult to injury, tickets will only be on sale via Ticketmaster.
I’ve no issue with Ticketmaster, as long as they are being used as a compliment to, not an alternative to clubs selling tickets themselves.
In fact, some people will prefer Ticketmaster, if they are unable to get to their club’s stadium on a non matchday due to work or personal commitments.
Ticketmaster sell for music venues in Belfast such as Ulster Hall, The Limelight and The Odyssey. Music fans can go to the Venue Box Office and buy the tickets themselves if they wish.
Ticketmaster sell for Ulster Rugby. Rugby fans can go to Ravenhill to buy a ticket if they wish.
Why should football fans be any different? Why aren’t football fans able to go to a Venue (in this case, their club’s shop) Box Office to buy a ticket?
A statement made by Crusaders states that the four clubs have been offered 500 tickets to sell themselves. Not enough for Linfield, Crusaders or Glenavon fans. More than likely not enough for Lurgan Celtic, who will experience a spike in interest due to playing in their first ever Irish Cup Semi-final.
This will also put off neutrals, who may have been tempted to attend one or both games, especially as they will now be able to buy a ticket without having to travel to Belfast or Lurgan.
Both Semi-Finals have a good narrative. Rejuvinated Linfield v Giantkillers who caused Europe’s longest serving manager to resign and 2014 Cup Winners v 2015 League Champions.
Those in power should be making it easier for fans to attend these games.
This comes after the farce over Euro 2016 ticket allocations, supporters buying a ticket being charged a £6 delivery fee for Wales tickets.
For a £6 delivery fee, i’d expect the tickets to be personally hand delivered by Kyle Lafferty.
2016 was always going to be a memorable year for football in Northern Ireland. Sadly, it’s going to be remembered as the year football fans were continually ripped-off.