There were low levels of excitement in the second-half at Windsor Park on Tuesday night, but that wasn’t a bad thing, as Linfield had the game wrapped up at half-time. At this time of year, it’s all about results, not excitement. Linfield are getting the results. Unfortunately, so are Crusaders.
Glenavon started the game strongly and it was Linfield were looked nervous, struggling to clear crosses and putting themselves under unnecessary pressure. The bets that Glenavon could offer during this time was a free-kick straight at Roy Carroll.
Linfield then got a grip of the game and started creating chances. Paul Smyth had a shot saved from a wide angle, while Jamie Mulgrew burst into Glenavon’s penalty area and saw his shot saved, Glenavon being able to clear from the rebound.
It was a night when the first goal would be vital. If Glenavon had got it, there would still be every chance Linfield could still come back to win, but it would have been a long and uncomfortable evening. If Linfield had got it, Glenavon’s early confidence would have been dented, and Linfield could charge forward and take advantage of it.
Just before the half hour, Linfield were gifted the opportunity to take the lead when a stray backpass played Andrew Waterworth through on goal, he rounded the keeper and was brought down. A penalty was awarded, but only a yellow card.
You could see it now. Tuffey saves the penalty and has the game of his life in a 0-0 draw.
Aaron Burns was now on penalty duty and made no mistake from the spot.
Just as they finished celebrating that goal, Linfield fans were celebrating another goal, this time across the city at Seaview as Coleraine took a 1-0 lead against Crusaders.
And just as Linfield fans had finished celebrating that goal, they were celebrating another goal from their own team as Mark Haughey headed home to make it 2-0.
Linfield weren’t happy with that, and wanted a third before half-time, and began to put more pressure on Glenavon’s goal.
That third goal came in the final minutes of the half when a flick on played in Paul Smyth clean through, and he made no mistake.
It was all going well for Linfield. At Windsor Park at least. By this point, Crusaders had already gone into a 2-1 lead.
Linfield made a sloppy start to the second-half, but the best Glenavon could offer was a long range shot over the bar.
At half-time, Sean Ward came on for Jamie Mulgrew while Mark Stafford came on for Mark Haughey in the early minutes of the second-half.
I’m not sure how serious their injuries are, but David Healy wasn’t taking any chances and rightly so. There’s no point risking players when you’re 3-0 up, especially when there are capable and direct replacements on the bench.
Linfield’s final sub in the final minutes was Kirk Millar for Aaron Burns. I would have brought on teenage striker Ryan Strain just to give him some game time.
Having been denied by a foul from Jonathan Tuffey, Andrew Waterworth was determined to get on the scoresheet. He burst through Glenavon’s defence but his shot was saved. He then beat Tuffey with a later shot but a defender on the line denied him this time.
In the end, Linfield had to settle for 3-0. A lack of extra goals didn’t matter for Linfield. If the League is to be decided on goal difference, Linfield’s advantage is too much for Crusaders to turnaround in one match.
At the final whistle, Linfield players did a lap of honour, as it was the last home game of the season.
Unfortunately, Crusaders got a 3-2 win against Coleraine, maintaining their lead at the top to one point. Despite that, it is still all to play for.
Linfield fans will be hoping that they can repeat what Cliftonville did in 2014 and storm to the title in the Split. There is the fear that it could be a repeat of 2009 when they missed out on the title by a point.
The other result in the Top Six saw Ballymena United beat Cliftonville 4-1. Seeing Ballymena get a confidence boosting win ahead of their match against Crusaders on Saturday is no bad thing.
In the bottom half, Portadown’s relegation was confirmed, meaning that Linfield won’t drop costly points against Portadown on a Friday night in February 2018.
After the game, I spent an hour queuing for tickets for Linfield’s final game of the season at Solitude next Saturday. The queue was so slow moving, I was worried about not making kick-off for that match.
It’s an occupational hazard of being a football supporter is that you can buy a ticket to a match expecting it to be a match with it all to play for, only to find there is nothing to play for.
That will be the case if Linfield lose at Coleraine on Saturday and Crusaders win at Ballymena.
Linfield fans remain hopeful that Crusaders will slip up. There are only so many times a team can get away with coming from behind.
All that matters is that Linfield get the three points to take the title race to the last day.
It would be nice if Linfield could enter the pitch at Solitude on the last day as league leaders. All we want, is for them to leave the pitch that day as Champions.