Just like Christmas advertising, it feels like the early rounds of European competition get earlier and earlier each year. It was June 30th for crying out loud. Unless there’s a dramatic run of postponements in the Winter months, it will mean that Linfield will have played in every month of 2016.
The opposition, were the closest team they could face – Cork City, only the 266 miles away.
Both teams were hoping to secure a trip to Sweden. That’s the more modest ambition of a 2nd Round tie against BK Hacken, rather than the Final in Stockholm.
Cork had the better of the early exchanges and got the first shot on goal when Steven Dooley fired into the side netting.
Linfield were able to see off the danger in those opening moments, but they were having to get bodies in the way.
Eventually, Linfield got more into it, causing problems for Cork from a series of set pieces.
In fact, Cork caused problems for themselves when Karl Sheppard almost headed into his own net, forcing goalkeeper Mark McNulty to tip it over the bar.
McNulty saw himself as a showman, even standing on the halfway line when Cork attack. Sadly, Linfield didn’t get the chance to make him pay for his exhuberence.
Paul Smyth had the best of Linfield’s chances, heading over from close range after a flick-on.
Picking up from last season, Smyth was the focal point of Linfield’s attacks, forcing Cork into cynical fouls as the only way to stop him.
The half-time whistle blew and Linfield were holding their own. Neither side were dominating.
Just after the hour, Cork got a penalty for a foul by Stephen Lowry. It was a stupid tackle to make on a wet pitch when the Cork player was going away from goal.
Roy Carroll, making his Linfield debut just five days after being on the bench for Northern Ireland at Euro 2016, had saved a penalty in two of his last three appearances at Windsor Park.
It wasn’t to be a hat-trick for Carroll as Sean Maguire made it 1-0 to Cork.
In the immediate aftermath of that goal, it looked like Cork were going to get a second goal.
Stephen Lowry atoned for conceding the penalty by heading off the line when a goal seemed certain.
Paul Smyth was surprisingly substituted as Linfield chased an equaliser. Ironically, just after he was fouled.
For what it’s worth, no pun intended, but I would have had Michael McLellan on as a sub to bring some fresh impetus to Linfield’s attacking play, especially as Andrew Waterworth was struggling on his own.
Linfield were able to stop Cork getting a second, but unfortunately, Cork were able to stop Linfield getting an equaliser.
It was an awful game were neither team really looked like scoring in open play, with the only goal coming via a penalty.
Not that Cork will care. I know I wouldn’t be caring if Linfield were on the right side of a 1-0 scoreline.
Sadly, a Linfield supporter died at the ground after taking ill when the teams were warming up, just two weeks after a Northern Ireland supporter died at the match against Ukraine, and just nine months after a Linfield supporter died at a match last season.
With regards to the second-leg, i’m still not sure wether to go. I’m looking at travel and accommodation at the moment, but still non committal.
Cork is a city I would love to visit, and have had it in the back of my mind to go. It’s hard to get a decent hotel price at short notice though. I have been to Cork before, in 1999.
There is an event in Cork I always keep an eye out for the line-up, Live at the Marquee. It’s a Cork version of Belsonic, set in a tent in Cork’s docks.
The line-up generally falls into two categories, popular Irish acts (Christy Moore, Damien Rice, The Coronas) and acts who can flog a Greatest Hits Set.
This year’s line-up is awful, to be honest.
I’ve always hoped to have a line-up with two decent gigs on successive nights, and then fit a Cork City and/or Cobh Ramblers match in while i’m there.
Maybe in 2017.
If I don’t go to Cork next week, there is still one other avenue for an international away day for Linfield, as they’ll be joining the Scottish Challenge Cup at the 4th Round stage in November. I’ll be keeping an eye out on seeing if Linfield can get a decent (and easy to get to) away day.
In terms of Manchester United games, i’ve already booked to go to the home game against Hull City on Wednesday 1st February 2017, doing Tuesday to Thursday travel.
On the Tuesday, i’m hoping to go to a game in the North-West of England on the Tuesday night. There’s no League One or League Two games scheduled (postponements and rearrangements could see some be played that night)
There is a full Championship fixture list, including Wigan Athletic v Norwich, and get to see the famous and almost mythical Will Grigg (‘s On Fire, your defence is terrified) in the flesh.
……. and then Zlatan the next day. Oh yes!!
Hopefully, he does better than when I saw him in Euro 2016. Even though he had a rubbish game, he still set up a goal.
Once the UEFA Cup Group Stage draw is done, i’ll see if I can get a decent price to go Thursday-Monday and take in two home games, as well as a game in North-West England on the Saturday afternoon.
Ideally, not on Matchday 6, as it would mean i’ll have to miss Cast’s gig at The Limelight in December,
A 1-0 home defeat isn’t ideal, but it is retrievable.
June might have only just finished, but the 2016-2017 is already in full swing.
Hopefully, it will involve Linfield v BK Hacken in a few weeks.