For the first time in nearly eight years, Linfield headed to Clandeboye Park for a competitive match, to take on managerless Ards.
Having won both previous meetings this season by half-time, Linfield were hoping to do likewise. Their best moment in the early minutes of the game came when Ross Gaynor got in behind Ards defence, but his shot from the edge of the box went just over.
The pressure began to build from Linfield a clear cut chance, they needed a set piece to eventually take the lead on 17 minutes when Jimmy Callacher got in front of his own team-mate, Mark Haughey, to head home from close range.
Just when it looked like a matter of how many Linfield would score, Ards came more into the game, causing some moments of concern for Linfield and giving Gareth Deane, deputising for Roy Carroll, more work to do than many in the crowd had anticipated.
The best moment came when Joe McKinney capitalised on a Mark Stafford slip to run towards goal, but his shot went well wide.
Linfield rode it out and began to have more pressure on Ards goal. They looked to have made it 2-0 when Callacher headed home from a free-kick but the referee disallowed it for a foul. I couldn’t see one myself.
Callacher wouldn’t have long to wait for his second goal, as a few minutes later he got his foot there first in a crowded penalty area to finish from close range after Mark Haughey headed back a Kirk Millar free-kick to give Linfield a 2-0 in the final minutes of the first-half.
The second-half was a bit of a non event. Not that surprising to be honest. Ards had a lot of possession in Linfield’s half but didn’t do a lot with it.
With the 3-3 draw in January 2014 where Linfield blew a two goal lead still a recent memory, Linfield fans were unsurprisingly eager for their side to get a third goal to really kill the game off.
Their best opportunity for that came when Kirk Millar’s low shot was blocked in a crowded penalty area.
Aaron Burns came on from the bench for Linfield. Personally, I would have had him on a bit earlier. The pity for Linfield that they couldn’t get a third goal was that they wouldn’t have got the opportunity to give some game time to young Cameron Stewart.
Andrew Waterworth burst through and hit the side netting in the final moments as Linfield couldn’t get that third goal. They didn’t need it, two was enough.
No results went in Linfield’s favour as Crusaders and Cliftonville both recorded expected victories against bottom half opponents, meaning it’s as you were at the top of the table.
The only down side for Linfield was the worrying sight of Paul Smyth watching the game while wearing a protective foot brace.
Next week’s games are intersting. Linfield (Ballymena at home) and Crusaders (Glenavon at home) have potentially tricky games, while Cliftonville have what should be an easy three points (Carrick at home)
Matters are complicated by the fact that all three of those teams are involved in League Cup Semi-Finals.
The logical thing could be to wish for Ballymena to have a devastating extra-time defeat on Tuesday. but Linfield faced a Cliftonville team last month off the back of an extra-time defeat, so that theory is clearly nonsense.
That match against Ballymena United will see the return of David Jeffrey to the Windsor Park dugout. Last time he sat in it, the seats were nowhere near as comfy, as the redevelopment hadn’t even started.
He’ll barely recognise the place, and it will be nothing to do with the novelty factor of being in the away dressing room.
The fixture list has been kind in that regard with his return coming as late as possible.
It was always going to be a media circus, not his fault, so i’m glad it’s come as late as possible in the season, to avoid such a distraction in the early months, especially as Linfield have already played Ballymena twice this season, it won’t be as big a story as if Ballymena came to Windsor Park in August or September.
No doubt he’ll get a deserved reception at 2.59pm, but come 3pm he’ll be the opposition manager, and I hope he has a miserable afternoon.
With Ballymena joint 2nd best attack and joint 2nd worst defence, it’ll probably finish 8-7 to someone. Hopefully, Linfield.
Over the next week, i’ll have a lot of tickets to get. Two for friends on Boxing Day, and one each for Linfield’s forthcoming visits to Seaview (Crusaders away and Steel and Sons Cup Final)
I tried to get some at Windsor Park on Saturday but they’re only on sale between Monday and Friday. Talk about making it inconvenient for supporters.
Meanwhile, it was announced this week that Lyon will host the 2018 UEFA Cup Final. That ground will be familiar to Northern Ireland fans as the venue for their Euro 2016 win over Ukraine.
I’d provisionally looked into it, but flights are only once a week (Saturday) and don’t operate in May. Well, that’s that plan bit the dust.
Anyway, onto Ballymena next week.