The only two teams to win a trophy this season (Sorry Glenavon fans, i’m not counting your Charity Shield win) went head to head at Ballymena Showgrounds with both eyeing up further glory this season. For Ballymena, not a trophy, but Play-Off glory that would secure them UEFA Cup football next season. Linfield arrived in search of glory in both League and Cup. They left still in contention for the title but still trailing Crusaders by a point.
Whilst having my lunch, I spotted both Jimmy Boyce and Donald Duck in close proximity. It suggested it was going to be a strange day. It was anything but for Linfield.
Linfield issued a statement of intent in the first minute, going straight on the attack resulting in a Stephen Lowry shot going over.
Ballymena’s only attack of note in the opening minutes resulted in a shot which was casually shepherded out by Linfield’s defence and keeper. They were certainly more relaxed and confident about it than the fans in the stand were.
Linfield then took control of the game and it was no surprise when Jimmy Callacher headed home from close range from a Niall Quinn cross after Quinn’s free-kick was blocked.
At this time of year, scores in one match can affect another match (QPR downing tools on the last day of the 2011-2012 season once they knew Bolton had failed to win being a prime example).
Linfield were first to score today and led the as it stands table with Crusaders drawing 0-0.
Soon after, Stephen Lowry spotted Ballymena keeper Tim Allen off his line and went for a spectacular free-kick from his own half. It was going wide but it concerned Allen enough to make a save and put it out for a corner.
Aaron Burns hit the side netting from a wide angle as the chances piled up.
Andrew Waterworth had a left foot shot saved after being played in while Jamie Mulgrew had a shot just over and as the half neared it’s end, Stephen Lowry fired just over.
At this time of year, scores in other matches can make it look like the strangest things are being cheered. At one point, it looked like Linfield fans were overcelebrating the winning of a throw in. What it was, was that Cliftonville had equalised against Crusaders. Linfield fans began chanting “WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!”, mainly because as it stood, they were.
Linfield fans were celebrating again in the early minutes of the second-half, but not because of their own team. Incredibly, Cliftonville led Crusaders 2-1.
Despite the help from elsewhere, Linfield needed to help themselves an went about getting a second goal.
Paul Smyth seemed to be involved in everything. Firstly, having a header saved before a run almost resulted in a second goal but he shot went agonisingly wide.
He was then booked trying to win the ball back after his cross was blocked. Incredibly, far worse Ballymena fouls afterwards, most notably from Jim Ervin, were not getting the same result. The standard was set by Arnold Hunter, it was not being followed.
Despite nullifying Ballymena’s attacking threat, Linfield couldn’t afford to relax while the score was still 1-0. Niall Quinn and Andrew Waterworth were both denied trying to get that clinching goal, which eventually came on 88 minutes with a low Andrew Waterworth shot.
Linfield fans could relax, safe in the knowledge that the three points were secured.
Unfortunately by this point, Crusaders were 3-2 up at Solitude. The manipulation of the fixture list to give Crusaders an easier game after the trip to Windsor Park had worked, though they made hard work of it.
Up next, is a full Easter Tuesday fixture list, with Linfield at home to Glenavon, while Crusaders will face in-form Coleraine, a game that Crusaders should have played today.
Coleraine drew today but their unbeaten run continues. They know that a win on Tuesday will secure 3rd place for them and European football next season. Hopefully, they get that win.
Linfield just have to keep winning and keep winning. They just need one result to go their way. It wasn’t today. There are still three more opportunities.
Something I forgot to post last week was that St James Park in Newcastle will host the 2019 European Cup Final. That’s the Rugby one.
Very tempting. It will probably be on the last weekend of the Premier League season, so there’s the possibility of a double header that weekend with a football match. Newcastle will obviously be away, but Sunderland or Middlesbrough might be at home, dependent on them winning promotion in 2018 obviously. Let’s face it, they’re both gone this season.
Especially tempting, as I haven’t been to Newcastle since 1994, and I really want to visit Back Page Football.
One cup final more immediately on the horizon is this year’s Irish Cup Final. You’ve probably seen the media controversy about ticket prices.
People are right to be outraged. There is no justification for £20 tickets. A lot of people will be lost in the crowd. An absolutely ludicrous decision.
The worst thing was the short lead time between the announcement and the tickets going on sale, meaning there was no time to remedy it. I despair at some of the decision making by those in charge of football here sometimes.
There are three metaphorical cup finals before the literal cup final at the start of May.
Four wins means we’ll get something out of this season. It might even be two things.