Having not gone to the Edinburgh Festival this year, I wasn’t anticpating that I would be going to a football match in Scotland, but football works in mysterious ways, and I ended up going to see Linfield playing in Scotland.
Just about. If i’d headed any further South, I would have been in England, with Dumfries being less than an hour away from England, something utilised by Queen Of The South, with three of their squad being born in Carlisle.
As soon as it was announced in June that Linfield would be playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup, I let my mind stray as to possible opponents, and more importantly, a trip.
I didn’t want to play an SPL Underage team. Ideally, a senior team based in the Central Belt.
I didn’t get the Central Belt, but the next best thing, as my numerous trips to Old Trafford have taught me that Dumfries is not too far from the boat. This trip was more than doable. Another big appeal for me was the opportunity to visit another ground for the first time.
It became even more doable when Stena Line announced they were running a trip, which I had to book by phone due to their website being utterly useless.
What the tie had in geographic convenience was countered in the footballing aspect, with Queen Of The South being the highest ranked team left in the competition, currently top (and unbeaten in the league) of The Championship above Hibernian and Dundee United.
The stars were out for this match, spotting Ivan Little in the away end, and Helen Skelton was there to cheer on Queen Of The South. Her brother Gavin is the manager, another Cumbrian to go alongside those on the playing staff. It’s unknown if Calvin Harris or Bill Drummond were there to cheer on Queen Of The South.
As difficult as it was, it shouldn’t have been daunting for Linfield, with six of the starting line-up having played senior professional football, and four of them (Andrew Waterworth, Chris Casement, Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan) having played professionally in Scotland.
The hosts had the first chance of the game when Stephen Dobbie cut inside and hit a shot just wide of the post. Lyndon Dykes had a shot saved while Steveb Rigg hit a shot over the bar.
Roy Carroll had to be alert to race out of his box to clear the danger, avoiding the fate that happened to Gigi Buffon a few days earlier when he conceded a goal against Spain.
Linfield were having to do a lot of defending, but they were managing to keep out Queen Of The South.
It was clear that Linfield were missing Paul Smyth when they got the ball forward.
Jimmy Callacher had Linfield’s first attempt on goal but his header was easily saved.
If they weren’t getting much luck in open play, Roy Carroll’s catching made sure Queen Of the South were getting no joy from crosses.
Carroll was then forced into a double save from Dobbie and Rigg, the second of which was Jim Montgomery-esque.
Linfield got more into the game as the half neared it’s end, and had their best chance when Andrew Waterworth scuffed wide when he would have scored if he got the shot on target.
With chances so sparse for Linfield, they had to be taken.
Andy Dowie headed wide in the second-half while Roy Carroll was forced into a couple of saves when Queens players were through on goal.
The thing that was standing out was that Queen Of The South players were far more physically stronger than their Linfield counterparts, using their strength to begin or stop attacks.
Kirk Millar had a chance to win it for Linfield, but he couldn’t compose a shot and fired over.
0-0 after 90 minutes, the match went to extra-time, with no replays in this competition.
It was Queen Of The South who took the lead when Lyndon Dykes was played through, got enough space to go around Carroll and slot the ball into the empty net.
A stunning free-kick from Stephen Dobbie in the second-half of extra-time killed the game.
Queen Of The South threatened a third on the counter attack, a 3-0 scoreline would have been harsh.
It was a deserved win for Queen Of The South, but Linfield held their own. The first goal was always going to be crucial. Queens got it, and went on to win the game.
Having had a taste of it, hopefully Linfield can reach this competition again and have another trip to Scotland. Ayrshire, Stranraer, Galloway. All very convenient. Central Belt even.
I’ve checked, and Scotland aren’t at home on the weekend it would be played on next season, denying the idea of a double or even triple header weekend.
Back to domestic action now, a busy month awaits. Four league wins will see Linfield finish it on top of the league.