Linfield headed to Mourneview Park, a ground that had seen their previous two title challenges end (theoretically rather than mathematically), hoping to avoid an unwanted hat-trick.

Having failed to cut Crusaders four point lead last week, if it increased to seven, that could have been the case today, even though it is only early November.

Glenavon are a club who have been on an upward trajectory in recent years, winning the Irish Cup in 2014, finishing 3rd in 2015, before combining both by winning the Irish Cup and finishing 3rd in 2016.

Having added Pat McCourt to that squad, a title challenge was expected this season. They kicked off ten points off the top in 6th, with supporters wondering which Glenavon would turn up. The one that lost 3-0 to Cliftonville last week? Or the one that beat Ballymena 5-0 the week before?

Linfield fans were hoping the side that beat Glenavon 4-0 August would be the one that turned up. What showed up, or rather had to show up, was a side that had to dig in against adversity.

Linfield had the first real attacking moment of the game when a cross from the left saw Kirk Millar agonisingly unable to get on the end of it.

Just as the game looked to have an uneventful opening, that soon changed when Matthew Clarke was penalised for winning the ball. To everyone’s shock, the referee produced a red card. Nobody in the ground saw it coming.

Going down to ten men was an inconvenience for Linfield, but there wasn’t a massive need for a tactical reshuffle. It was simply a case of Ross Gaynor moving back from left midfield to left back.

Before the game had even restarted, Linfield were down to nine men when Roy Carroll was sent-off for reasons that are still unknown.

With no goalkeeper on the bench (something I would have if I was manager), Linfield were going to have to put an outfield player in goals.

This wasn’t a new situation for Linfield, after Ross Glendenning was sent-off against the same opposition in February.

Mark Haughey stepped into goal that day, and it was a task he would have to do today. His place in defence was taken by Sean Ward, who moved back from midfield.

It changed the game. No doubt about that. Glenavon naturally went for it, while Linfield had to get a defensive shape and be more conservative with their attacking, in order to avoid being hit on the counter attack.

Mark Haughey had a busier afternoon than he did in nets in February. He made two decent saves, but a lot of his other saves were basic stuff, not that i’m trying to take away from his performance, which was decent, even allowing for the novelty factor of him being an outfield player in nets.

Despite that, i’d prefer it if Gareth Deane was in goals on Tuesday night at Ballymena.

Just when it looked like Linfield were able to hold out despite the pressure, a Pat McCourt cross evaded everyone and went into the net to put Glenavon 1-0 up.

Within minutes, Linfield had a free-kick which was cleared and fell to Kirk Millar who blasted over. When you’re up against it like Linfield were, you have to make the most of opportunities like that.

This was more apparent when Glenavon went 2-0 up whenever Greg Moorhouse got in behind Linfield’s defence to make it 2-0.

It looked like being a long afternoon for Linfield, especially with the yellow cards stacking up. It seemed that players from both teams were getting booked for their first foul.

Sometimes a foul is just a foul and you move on. By taking the stance to book everyone, the referee set the standard that he had to follow.

Ironically, a referee who got his cards out early on might have been pretty fucking useful last Saturday.

One of those players booked was Jamie Mulgrew, who got subbed at half-time for Stephen Lowry.

Another half-time sub was Paul Smyth coming on for Sammy Clingan. In a game where Linfield needed to make the most of the ball whenever they had it, and Smyth was a player who could do that, especially in an attacking situation.

Ross Clarke for Kirk Millar was an obvious substitution, but with only one sub left, it was wise to keep that on ice. After the first 45 minutes, who knew what madness awaited?

A cross from Ross Gaynor was deflected across goal. Agonisingly, there wasn’t a white shirt able to take advantage.

Glenavon appeared to slack off, believing that the game was won, passing it about to each other slower than a milkfloat, not hurting or worrying Linfield, who were able to get into position to combat it.

The one moment they did worry Linfield came when Pat McCourt did one of his trademark runs, but his shot was saved by Haughey.

Just after the hour, Linfield pulled a goal back when Mark Stafford and Jimmy Callacher managed to work enough room for Callacher to cross for Andrew Waterworth to head home from inside the six yard box.

Suddenly, it was game on. Glenavon could switch themselves back on to clinch a game they thought they had already won.

Linfield couldn’t work an opening for an equaliser, but with only one goal in it, the game was far from over.

As the minutes ticked away, Ross Clarke came on for Kirk Millar.

On 88 minutes, a kick out from Haughey fell to Paul Smyth, giving him an opportunity to get a clear run at Glenavon’s defence, going past two defenders and finding himself through on goal.

There were times last season when he missed a couple of one on ones. Not today, there was never any doubt when he ran through on goal, and so it proved, giving Linfield what seemed like an unlikely draw.

There was still time to win the game but Linfield kept it sensible to keep what they hold. It looked like the magic moment had come when Paul Smyth got in behind Glenavon’s defence but the through ball evaded him, being picked up by Tuffey.

Linfield celebrated the draw like a win, it felt like it having been up against it for 80 minutes, sending out a message to the rest of the league that they are ready to take on whatever is thrown at them.

Elsewhere, Crusaders snuck a win over Coleraine to increase their lead to six points. Disappointing, but still retrievable.

Naturally, the winning goal was assisted by a player who would have been suspended today if the referee did his job last week.

Hopefully, Glenavon can make most of the energy they saved today by not doing many attacks during the second-half and get a result against Crusaders.

That same night, Linfield travel to Ballymena. After today, the next match can’t come soon enough.

More road trips follow, with a trip to Dungannon next Saturday

The night before, i’ll be at Windsor Park to see Northern Ireland take on Azerbaijan.

A lot of football to be watched over the next seven days.

I doubt any of it will be as bonkers as today.

Photo Album

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