David Healy celebrated his first anniversary as Linfield manager with a home game against the side who ruined his appointment, which was announced just before kick-off of a League Cup tie which Linfield lost 1-0.
One year on, and Linfield were again coming off the back of a League Cup defeat, 4-1 at Ballymena, having previously exited the Scottish Challenge Cup to Queen Of The South a few days earlier.
Like their hosts, Ballinamallard were coming off the back of two bad results, a 6-1 thumping at Dungannon Swifts, after only managing to get a draw at The Oval.
There were new faces brought into today’s line-up, a combination of rotation due to a busy month and axing players after the midweek shocker at Ballymena. I wasn’t there thankfully but can’t comment, but the media coverage and supporter reaction online were all consistent in their analysis.
Among those changes was the exciting prospect of Ross Clarke and Paul Smyth starting a competitive game for the first time, Clarke’s first start since April 2015 as he continues his recovery from injury.
There was no hangover from Linfield in the opening minutes, the pattern for the game being set out, with Linfield attacking and Ballinamallard defending.
What Linfield needed was an early goal, and they got it when Andrew Waterworth was played in by Niall Quinn to touch the ball and get him past Ballinamallard’s keeper, before composing himeself to fire into the net.
It was his first league goal of the season. A bit later in the calendar than many would have anticipated, but hopefully the first of many.
Despite being past the goalkeeperm there were still obstacles for him. Dropped recently, lacking in goals, a wet pitch, a defender running back, he ignored all of them to compose himself and finish.
It was a return to form for Waterworth today. Even when he couldn’t score or get on the end of a pass or cross, he was there and he was looking like he was seconds away from a goal.
In the previous meeting in August, Linfield got an early goal, but were pushed all the way by Ballinamallard, who were level at one point in the game.
It was the same pattern when Ballinamallard visited Windsor Park in March, Linfield edging the game 2-1 and Ballinamallard equalised. As well as that, Ballinamallard came from behind to get a draw in December.
In short, the game was far from won despite Linfield’s early lead.
Though, Linfield were the team most likely to get the next goal in the lead, their best opportunity coming when a long range Sammy Clingan free-kick was saved by James McGrath.
Clingan has had a lot of long-range shots saved this season, but his luck was soon to change, making it 2-0 from a free-kick. It was his first goal for the club.
Despite that, Ballinamallard tried to venture forward, Johnny Lafferty having his shot deflected over after a Roy Carroll spill.
Ross Clarke almost replicated his goal against Ballinamallard in February 2014, but his shot was deflected wide.
For Linfield, the aim of the second-half was to get an early goal and put the game to bed. Andrew Waterworth was agonisingly close to getting on the end of Ross Clarke’s cross.
There wasn’t long to wait for a third goal, and it came when Mark Haughey headed home from a corner.
Now that the game was won, Linfield turned to their bench to give some players a rest ahead of Tuesday night. Unsurprisingly, the first player substituted was Ross Clarke, who made way for Kirk Millar.
It was a productive afternoon for him, showing flashes of his 2014-2015 form and getting more minutes as he continues his recovery from long-term injury.
With the game won, Linfield stepped it up a gear, having numerous attempts on goal.
Having scored four goals in their last four home games, the stats suggested there would be another goal for Linfield, especially as Aaron Burns had since been introduced from the bench.
The fourth goal came after Paul Smyth took advantage of a sloppy backpass from Niall Owens back pass, touch it past the keeper and then score into the empty net. It wouldn’t be the first time today that a player called Owens would help Linfield today.
The one positive from Wednesday night’s defeat for Linfield, is that it gave Ballymena United some confidence, if it was needed, ahead of today’s game against Crusaders.
A 2-1 win for Ballymena was greatly received at Windsor Park, as it meant that Linfield will go top of the league if they beat Cliftonville on Tuesday night.
Even though the result helped Linfield, a closer inspection of the league table sees Ballymena only five points off the top of the league. They were really only helping themselves, with Linfield a secondary beneficiary.
Of all the absurd things to happen in 2016, a Ballymena United title challenge led by David Jeffrey is not something anybody would have seen on January 1st. He could probably resurrect Donald Trump’s presidential bid.
Up next for Linfield is a trip to Solitude, a ground and opponent that should hold no fear after recent head to heads. It should never have done in the first place. Let’s put that period behind us.
After that, is a trip to Coleraine, only four points off the top of the table, suddenly eyeing up a prospect of a title challenge.
That is followed by a County Antrim Shield tie against Cliftonville. Even though it’s a minor competition, you don’t want to have three cup exits in a month. That is a very Arsenal thing to do. The Saturday after that, Crusaders come to Windsor Park.
Four wins has to be the aim, ending the month with a cup final and a four point gap at the top of the league. Despite the two cup exits, that sequence of results would have made October 2016 a very productive month, despite the two earlier cup exits.
So, up next for Linfield, four Cs. Let’s hope the performances are A*.