I’ve enjoyed the past three months spending my Saturdays going out cycling. Not as much as I enjoyed jumping back into the madness of a new Irish League season.
The fixture computer gave Linfield a trip to Ballinamallard to begin with. Not that surprising perhaps, as barring 2012-2013, Linfield have travelled to Fermanagh in the opening two months of the season.
Of the new signings, Chris Casement (second debut) and Roy Carroll were the only starters, with Josh Carson on the bench.
It was a man who has fond memories of Ferney Park, Stephen Lowry (he scored his first goal for the club there), who put Linfield into the lead when he headed home from a Ross Gaynor free-kick after 8 minutes.
It was the first goal anywhere in the new Irish League season.
Ballinamallard were letting Linfield know they were in a game and that a two goal lead was needed just to be sure.
It almost came when a crossfield pass played in Kirk Millar whose shot was tipped onto the side netting, though the referee gave a goal kick.
Linfield were getting a lot of joy from crossfield passes and playing balls in behind Ballinamallard’s defence.
Paul Smyth got in behind the defence but couldn’t get enough room for a shot, allowing for a Ballinamallard tackle.
Ballinamallard got an equaliser when a failed overhead kick fell to Ryan McConnell, who fired home. This was not in Linfield’s plans.
It was a ball in behind the defence that brought about Linfield’s second goal, as Ballinamallard’s keeper cleared the ball from the left-back position as Andrew Waterworth chased for possession, the ball landing perfectly for Kirk Millar on the halfway line, who returned the ball into the back of the net.
There was a moment of tenstion as the ball was in mid air, someone near me even gasped as the ball went goalwards. The tension was over as soon as the ball hit the back of the net and Linfield fans celebrated.
The second-half, like the first-half, saw Linfield need a two goal margin. They couldn’t get it. Their best moment came early in the second-half when Kirk Millar fired goalwards from a tight angle, but his shot was smothered.
Like in the first-half, Ballinamallard were reminding Linfield that while there was a one goal difference, the game was far from won.
Josh Carson came on from the bench and looked lively.
With 10 minutes to go, Linfield had a flurry of attacks as they sought the goal that would secure the win, with Stephen Lowry and Niall Quinn going close. Smyth and Carson were the focal point of Linfield’s attacks.
Ballinamallard went closer, with a Laffery header going just wide. He was free in the box.
Only one game in, and Linfield were doing this to their fans.
As well as the Lafferty header, Linfield had to survive a nervy corner kick.
You can be comfortable in the final minutes with a one goal lead. Linfield weren’t.
As much as Ballinamallard deserve credit, all they needed was more luck or better decision making to get a point.
Still, have to take a win, especially considering Linfield’s recent record on the opening day of the season. We’ve been used in recent years to being two or three points off the top of the league, so we’ll take this.
It wasn’t a great performance, but it was enough to say Linfield deserve the points.
It’s all about getting wins, it doesn’t matter it you grind out an away win or rack up the goals at home to compliant opposition like Ballymena.
The games come thick and fast, with Coleraine visiting Windsor Park in the now traditional (you can call three years a tradition?) Wednesday night fixture list for matchday 2, before games against Crusaders and Glenavon before the end of the month.
Coleraine’s match being postponed today means Neil McCafferty will be suspended on Wednesday, so it will be ok to concede a free-kick in injury time if we’re a goal up.
I’d prefer it if we did the business well in advance of the 90th minute to be honest.