After a win over Lurgan Celtic last week ensured that Linfield’s season will end with a Cup Final against Glenavon, Linfield arrived at Seaview today hoping to get a win that could see them ending the season with two Cup Finals against Glenavon, one literal and one metaphorical.
Linfield went in to the game minus Aaron Burns, who was suspended. His place went to Ross Gaynor, who missed last week’s game through injury.
Each side had a half chance in the early stages, Declan Caddell heading wide from a cross, while Andrew Waterworth’s snapshot from the edge of the penalty area went wide.
Linfield weren’t really seen as an attacking force in the first-half. Despite that, Crusaders couldn’t make the most of their possession.
Jordan Owens had their best moments, firing wide twice after getting brief space in the penalty area. On both occasions, he should have done better.
In truth, Linfield’s defending in the first-half was shepherding the ball out and catching crosses
It was a poor first-half from Linfield, most of it untidy, falling into the trap of hoofing it long, playing Crusaders game.
It had echoed the first-half of the Irish Cup tie at Solitde a few weeks back. Linfield were more than happy to be going in at half-time 0-0, and try to improve in the second-half.
On 58 minutes, Linfield had the first major attacking moment in the game when Stephen Lowry was able to run into space in the penalty area, a sent the ball goalwards, only to see a touch from Sean O’Neill knock the ball onto the post.
Linfield fans in all four corners of Seaview thought the ball was going in.
Lowry had Linfield’s next attempt at goal, dragging a shot wide from the edge of the box.
In the aftermath of Lowry’s first chance, Linfield began to have a lot of pressure on Crusaders goal. They didn’t help themselves with poor delivery from set pieces when the opportunities were presented to them.
Crusaders were worried, and resorted to timewasting at any any opportunity, as well as unpuniched follow-through fouls when the ball was being shepherded out of play.
Their best moment of the second-half came when Gavin Whyte found some space but fired the shot wide.
Linfield had to win and went for it, with a trio of attacking substitutions – Guy Bates for Kirk Millaw, Michael McLellan for Matthew Clarke and Stephen Fallon for Paul Smyth.
They almost took a lead from a set piece, but it was a Crusaders player who knocked the ball goalwards.
It looked set to be a frustrating 0-0 draw, until Crusaders got the lead when Gavin Whyte knocked the ball home after a hoof upfield. The typical Crusaders goal. The only team trying to win the game was now behind.
There was still time for Linfield to salvage something from the game, a point was better than nothing.
In injury time, Linfield got a corner, with everybody up for it. It was cleared and Crusaders counter-attacked. Ross Glendinning was hesitant in getting back on his line, unsure wether to go back or be part of the attack in case Linfield won the ball back. It proved to be a fatal decision as it gave Jordan Forsythe enough space to make it 2-0.
The goal won the game, and almost certainly the title. Eight points over four games will be too much for Linfield to overtake.
It’s important for Linfield not to feel sorry for themselves, and get the points on the board to secure a second place finish (currently seven points clear of third) and avoid the farce of the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, as well as building up some momentum ahead of the Irish Cup Final, especially as Glenavon have failed to win any of their two games since reaching the final.
If Crusaders are to win the league, make them win it, unlike the last two years, when Cliftonville and Crusaders won the league on matchdays when Linfield lost.
A poor November 2015 killed off Linfield’s chances of winning the league this season, not today’s result. It was a run of 12 wins from 15 games afterwards that gave them hope going into today’s game.
Based on the performances on this run, and continuing this momentum in the final games and the Irish Cup Final, there’s no reason why Linfield can’t be champions in 2017.