After the Irish Cup last week, it was back to League action for Linfield and a trip to Mourneview Park, a ground that was once kind to them but they have now struggled at – their last meaningful win (they did win on the last day of last season, but it was two reserve teams with nothing to play for) there coming in November 2014 – as they aimed to keep pace with Crusaders at the top of the table.
Glenavon have blown hot and cold this season. Even if they were 4-0 up in stoppage time, you’d still be expecting Linfield to get something. Linfield fans have already seen Glenavon’s ridiculousness this season first hand, blowing a 2-0 lead against nine man (for 80 minutes) Linfield in November.
After that game, Linfield trailed Crusaders by four points. At kick-off, it was seven. It simply couldn’t get any bigger.
Sean Ward came in for the suspended Jamie Mulgrew, while Kirk Millar and Ross Gaynor were rewarded for their substitute appearances at The Oval last week with a start today.
Linfield made a good start to the game, and I don’t mean by going through the first ten minutes without a red card.
Ross Gaynor forced Jonathan Tuffey to tip his cross over the bar, just as Aaron Burns was ready to pounce. Andrew Waterworth had a snapshot from the edge of the box, similar to his goal at Mourneview Park in November 2014, but this time, it was turned around the post for a corner.
Aaron Burns and Mark Haughey both had headers wide from close range as Linfield’s pressure continued without reward.
They did eventually get their reward when an Andrew Waterworth flick played Aaron Burns through on goal. As he ran through, there was no doubt that he was going to score. I thought he was going to fire it across goal, instead he just blasted it in at the near post. Linfield fans didn’t care, their team had got the goal their play deserved.
With the half-time whistle approaching, Linfield searched for the second goal that would change the dynamic of the half-time team talk. They thought they had it when Mark Stafford finished from close range, but it was ruled out belatedly for a handball in the build up.
It looked like a handball by a Linfield player from where I was sat, the only issue was that the referee waited so long to make a decision instead of blowing his whistle instantly, especially as Stafford had taken his time to compose himself and score.
Having failed to make their superiority count in the first-half, Linfield were hoping not to pay for it in the second-half as they chased the second goal that would surely have secured the three points.
The pressure continued with Andrew Waterworth firing just wide, and Aaron Burns having an instinctive close range shot saved.
With there being only one goal in it, it was only natural that Glenavon would start to feel that a point would be there for the taking.
Despite having an increase in possession, Glenavon didn’t look like scoring. They got an opportunity from a soft penalty awarded for a handball by Mark Stafford, as he slid in to block a cross. Andy McGrory made no mistake from the spot to make it 1-1.
Naturally, Glenavon had their heads up. They had a few attacking situations but nothing that looked like getting a goal. Having ridden out the storm, Linfield now set their sights on getting a winner.
The game soon switched in Linfield’s favour when Ciaran Martyn got a second yellow card, the forth successive league match where there had been a player sent-off.
David Healy turned to his bench to try and take advantage of the extra man. It looked set for the introduction of former Nigeria international Kevin Amuneke. Instead it was Cameron Stewart, coming on for Kirk Millar, who was as bad and infuriating today as he was good last week. There’s a footballer there, it’s trying to get him on the pitch every week that’s the problem.
Stewart’s introduction saw Aaron Burns moved out wide. It was Stewart’s best performance in all of his brief cameo appearances for Linfield so far.
On 75 minutes, Linfield took the lead again when a through ball found it’s way to Andrew Waterworth who fired home via the help of a deflection.
You sensed there would be no way back for Glenavon, this late, and with ten men.
With only one goal in it, Linfield couldn’t get complacent in the final moments. As the game neared it’s end, it was Linfield who looked like getting the next goal, with Ross Gaynor having a free-kick just wide, while Sean Ward forced Tuffey into a save, which just about went out for a corner.
2 minutes and 40 seconds into 3 minutes injury time, it probably would have been better if Ward had fired it high, wide and out of the ground. It didn’t matter, as Linfield saw the game out in the final 20 seconds to record a 2-1 win with an Andrew Waterworth winner for the third successive Saturday.
So that’s where Linfield went wrong against Coleraine, it was on the wrong day of the week.
It made no difference in terms of the league table as all of the top four won. Linfield remain seven points off the top and three points clear of Cliftonville in third. There’ll be a chance to increase that lead next week when Cliftonville lie down for Crusaders at Seaview. It won’t be easy as Linfield welcome Ballymena United to Windsor Park, but having beaten them twice this season, there’s nothing to fear.
Most of the other football news this week has been dominated by cup competitions. It might have been a generous FA Cup draw for United (Wigan at home), but it means Wigan’s match against Norwich on 31st January has been postponed, meaning it’s unlikely i’ll get to see two games when i’m over for the Hull match on 1st February as there’s no other games in Greater Manchester on that night.
Meanwhile, it has been announced that from 2026, the World Cup will increase to 48 teams. There’s not enough facepalms to describe this idea. 32 teams was the right number and a simple format. 16 groups of 3 will lead to more negative football and more dead rubber games on matchday 3, as well as more potential Austria v West Germany type games if a team has suffered a heavy defeat in matchday 1 faces a team who won on matchday 1. That is despite the slight improvement in Northern Ireland’s chances of qualifying, with Europe now having 16 teams from the current number of 13.
Though there will be the same amount of games as a 32 team tournament, the increased amount of teams will reduce the number of countries who can possibly host the tournament due to the increased infrastructure required.
Meanwhile, the venue for the final of the County Antrim Shield was decided this week as being Ballymena Showgrounds on 7th February. It should have been The Oval, but the venue holds good memories for Linfield fans, as it was where Linfield beat Crusaders in the 2014 Final.
There could be a potential symmetry to this. as the 2014 win was David Jeffrey’s last trophy as Linfield manager. This will represent an opportunity for David Healy to get his first trophy as Linfield manager. It could even be the springboard for a second or third in a few months time.
The venue of the end of one era could potentially host the start of a new one.
It was a bumper week for cup final venue announcements, with Seaview being confirmed as the venue for the League Cup Final. Tempted to try and get a ticket for the Carrick end. I bring them good luck when I see them in big games.
Next week, sees Linfield return to Windsor Park for the first time since that defeat to Coleraine. A lot has been written about Linfield’s poor home form this season. The truth is, it’s no worse than any other time over the past four seasons.
There was always going to be teething issues when the Windsor Park redevelopment was complete. It was always going to be a case of trial and error. Unfortunately, there seems to be more errors than expected.
For me, i’d like to see TVs into the new Viewing Lounge. Part of my matchday ritual was to check half-time scores from England and Scotland, and then rewatch what I have just witnessed on Final Score NI.
I even miss the social awkwardness of people waiting and looking at the bar staff, hoping that someone plucks up the courage to ask “Can you put on 101 please?”
I’d also like to see supporters be allowed to view the game from the balconies.
It is also worth trialling for a few games having Linfield fans having the option of being in the Railway Stand. It will take minimum effort and changes in terms of matchday operation, and will give the team a boost at matches seeing their fans behind on of the goals.
We’ve all seen it at away games when Linfield are chasing a goal and have fans behind the goal urging them on. It’s an advantage we’ve given away teams over the past three seasons, why are we denying ourselves this?
After Ballymena sees a run of games on the road over the next few weeks – Dungannon, Institue, Ballymena (to face Crusaders) and Carrick.
The last thing you do before going on a road trip is make sure everything is fine before you leave home. No better way to prepare for a series of road trips than to make a start in remedying poor home form.