BALLYMENA UNITED 0-2 LINFIELD 15.4.2017

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.

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 14.4.2017

1. Barry Manilow – New York State Of Mind
2. Kasabian – You’re In Love With A Psycho
3. Royal Blood – Lights Out
4. Biffy Clyro – Friend and Enemies
5. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes

Ryan Adams update. Still looking for a ticket for Ulster Hall in September. (Yes, I will do this every week between now and September)

PURE HERE …… SO IT IS

Some new artwork to report in Belfast this week.

I saw reports on something developing on Social Media on Monday, so I headed out with my camera to investigate, and then again on Tuesday and Wednesday before getting photos of the finished piece on Thursday.

It’s at a pub called The Dirty Onion in Hill Street in the Cathedral Quarter. I went there once before heading to a work Christmas dinner. It was satisfactory. Think i’ll just stick to Football, Music and Street Art and give Pub Reviews a miss, though if any Bar Managers are reading, I will do reviews in exchange for free food.

As you’ve guessed from the pictures, it’s not the easiest mural to photograph due to it’s location. I don’t fancy climbing up to try and get some close-up shots.

The image is of Belfast celebrities and landmarks such as Colin Murray, Julian Simmons, Samson and Goliath, and The Big Fish.

It’s sponsored by a beer company and painted by Visual Waste, who probably thinks i’m stalking him, as i’m usually at the scene when he paints something.

As with anything done by Visual Waste, there is an accompanying video of how it was done. You can find it here.

Enjoy.

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MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT – 20.10.1979

Allan Hunter and Mick Mills of Ipswich Town, dressed in their respective national kits, are the cover stars of this edition of Shoot. That can only mean one thing, England are playing Northern Ireland. It’s not a Home International game, but on a continent wide scale, a European Championsip Qualifier at Windsor Park.

Mills and Hunter get a joint interview in Shoot’s preview.

Shoot do a feature on soldiers in Belfast who’ll be guarding the England team.

The feature reveals that, despite a lot of them being football fanatics, they’re not allowed to attend Irish League games when in civilian clothes due to security fears.

As well as England and Northern Ireland, there are also previews of Republic Of Ireland, Wales and Scotland’s European Championship Qualifiers.

Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson expressed his frustration at a League Cup defeat away to Arbroath. Fortunately for them, a comfortable first leg win saw them go through.

As well as winning the European Cup on the field, Nottingham Forest were celebrating after being voted European Team Of The Year by France Football magazine.

Wolves get a profile by Shoot, with the headline “Wolves Are Biting Again”, and so it briefly proved, as they won the League Cup that season. The rest of the decade wasn’t as good for Wolves.

In Northern Ireland, Portadown defender Herbie Pearson fears his career could be over, while QPR saw off competition from Manchester United and Everton to sign Northern Ireland Schoolboy international Alan McDonald, while Bobby Carlisle has signed for Newry Town, who have ambitions of joining Northern Ireland’s top flight.

Gordon McQueen uses his column to describe Scotland’s European Championship Qualifier against Austria as “Win or bust”

The draw for the 1982 World Cup is coming up soon, and Shoot previews this and how it will be decided, as this is the first 24 team World Cup. Shoot writes that there is a possibility of two UK teams being paired together, and so it proved, when Scotland and Northern Ireland were paired in the same group.

In ads, Phil Neal is advertising Gola.

Derek Johnstone uses his column to deny he had a punch-up with Scotland manager Ally McLeod.

Meanwhile, teenage defender Tommy Caton is juggling playing for Manchester City with his studies. He is interviewed by Shoot and says he is yet to face his biggest footballing examination, a match against Joe Jordan.

LINFIELD 1-0 CRUSADERS 8.4.2017

Football is all about taking our opportunities. When Linfield fell into decline in 2012, Cliftonville took advantage and won two successive titles. When Cliftonville fell into decline in 2014, Crusaders took advantage and won two successive titles. Now Linfield are hoping to take advantage of an opportunity that’s come their way, to reduce Crusaders lead at the top of the League to one point after being nine points behind in mid February.

Matches between Linfield and Crusaders could be reflected in the Pet Shop Boys song of the same name. Linfield had the brains, Crusaders had the brawn. Dropped points against the other ten clubs, especially at home, meant that Linfield didn’t yet have the look. The look of Champions that is.

Today was a must win for Linfield. A draw would have been inconvenient but the situation could have been retrieved. Defeat was unthinkable, it woudl have meant game over for Linfield, just as it did on this weekend last year.

Football is a numbers game, and there were three numbers that mattered. Four for Linfield (number of successive wins over Crusaders) and three for Crusaders (successive titles). Linfield fans were hoping the main number at 5pm would be one (number of points Linfield were off the top of the League)

Seven was a number that Linfield fans were not prepared to entertain.

Already a rare occurrence in 2017, today was Linfield’s last Saturday 3pm home game of the season. Fans arriving at Windsor Park this afternoon were hoping that the next Saturday 3pm game at Windsor Park in August would see them enter the field as Champions.

As I did my usual pre-match routine of watching the warm-ups from the Viewing Lounge, the most obvious observation was that there is a new TV in there. Hopefully that’s a permanent arrangement and not just to show the Grand National.

Getting a winner in the 5.15 at Aintree would have been a nice bonus for those watching who had a bet on, the real winner we all wanted was in the 3.00 at Windsor.

The first talking point of the afternoon came an hour before kick-off when the teamsheets were submitted, with both teams missing a key player – Mark Stafford for Linfield and Jordan Owens for Crusaders.

Crusaders loss was bigger than Linfield’s. Linfield had options to replace Stafford. Crusaders didn’t have options to replace Owens.

It was Chris Casement who got the nod ahead of Sean Ward. I would have went with Ward, who was the only defensive player on an attacking bench which included Ross Gaynor, Kirk Millar, Josh Carson and teenager Ryan Strain.

As he took his place on the bench, Strain was perhaps dreaming of a Federico Macheda style dramatic introduction to this season’s title race.

Crusaders had the better of the early moments, with Paul Heatley causing problems for Linfield in wide positions. While Linfield may not have been able to stop him getting crosses in, they were able to stop Crusaders when the crosses came in.

Linfield then got a grip and took control of the game, getting a lot of joy down their left hand side with Matthew Clarke and Niall Quinn combining to good effect.

Crusaders were taking advantage of the unwritten rule that no yellow cards are allowed in the first fifteen minutes, tactically fouling at will safe in the knowledge there would be no repercussions.

It was a foul not given that was the first talking point of the onfield action when Andrew Waterworth dispossessed Billy Joe Burns and went down under a challenge. It was untidy from Burns, but not enough to be a foul. If Waterworth had been able to get through on goal, he would surely have scored with Sean O’Neill out of position having anticipated a backpass from Burns.

Burns losing the ball was one of many nervous moments from Crusaders defenders both one and off the ball. There was a mistake in them, Linfield had to pressure them and pounce.

It was Linfield though who had the next moment of defensive nervousness in the game when Declan Caddell got a free header from a corner, but it was saved by Roy Carroll.

Linfield recovered from that and took control of the game, a lucky bounce looked like it was going to set up Niall Quinn, but a Crusaders defender just got there before him.

Despite their nervous, Crusaders defenders were getting the bounces and second balls go in their favour,

On 20 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough. It was no surprise that it came from a cross from the left, which fell to Aaron Burns. I thought he had missed the opportunity having not taken a first time shot, but he managed to drag the ball back with three defenders around him and guide the ball home with his left foot.

I didn’t realise how good a goal it was until watching the TV footage after the game. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that if Lionel Messi scored it, Social Media would go into meltdown.

Crusaders were forced into an early substitution when Philip Lowry went off injured to be replaced by speculative shot king David Cushley.

Cushley only scores one in every one hundred shots. The worry for Linfield was that he hadn’t scored in ninety shots. His first shot of the game was a free-kick that was easily blocked by Linfield’s wall.

The pressure on Crusaders goal continued, Andrew Waterworth hitting the post from a first-time shot after a cross came in, while a Paul Smyth cross agonisingly missed everyone.

Linfield were piling on the pressure, having a flurry of corners. With no Coates or Owens, Crusaders looked vulnerable at set pieces. The lucky bounce, just seemed to fall in Crusaders favour.

Chris Casement had a free-kick saved while Jimmy Callacher could’t get enough power on a header to score after Crusaders struggled with yet another set piece as Linfield looked to get a 2-0 lead to take to the dressing room at half-time.

Linfield started the second-half in search of a second goal that would kill the game.

Crusaders might have been able to come back from 2-0 down with a half-time rollicking, it was never going to happen with the second-half ongoing. A second goal would certainly have made the final moments relaxing for Linfield. We should know by now that title run-ins are rarely relaxing.

Andrew Waterworth hit a post, his effort would have been disallowed for offside, while Niall Quinn had a low shot deflected wide, before Aaron Burns had a header saved from inside the six yard box.

On 75 minutes, it looked like Linfield were going to be made to pay for not getting that second goal when a Jimmy Callacher miskick fell to Paul Heatley, but Roy Carroll came out to deny him.

Many in the South Stand hoped that was Crusaders moment. Just as many feared there was still enough time for Crusaders to have another moment.

It was surprising that David Healy didn’t turn to his subs bench. Perhaps not that surprising, considering that there was nobody playing bad enough to be taken off.

The most obvious change was to bring on Kirk Millar to hit Crusaders with pace for the final moments.

Eventually, his hand was forced by injuries, with Sean Ward coming on for Chris Casement and Kirk Millar coming on for Paul Smyth.

Linfield began to sit back and allow Crusaders to have too much of the ball. Despite Crusaders not doing much with it, it was still far too nervous for Linfield fans liking.

Aaron Burns almost made it 2-0 in stoppage down from a cross. When the ball was in mid air, it looked like being a repeat of Niall Quinn’s goal against Crusaders last month, but the ball wouldn’t fall for him as nicely.

Instead, he had to control and hit, with O’Neill saving, but at the expense of a corner. Stephen Lowry sat with his head in his hands. Bit of an overreaction, as Linfield had the lead and the ball.

Linfield were able to hold out and win 1-0, the gap at the top of the table now one point in Crusaders favour.

Next weekend, Crusaders travel to Solitude to face Cliftonville. If the fixtures formula was followed correctly, Crusaders would be at home to Coleraine.

Given the choice, who would you rather the play?

The team on an unbeaten run, in the Cup Final and favourites to secure 3rd and automatic European football?

Or the team who are demoralised, out of sorts and on a bad run of form, resigned to the UEFA Cup Play-Offs?

It all looks a bit suspicious to me, as everybody knew that Coleraine were going to be Team 3 in the split and not Cliftonville, yet the fixture list was confirmed before the pre-split positions were confirmed.

That’s a lucky break for Crusaders as I don’t expect Cliftonville to put up much of a fight at Solitude next weekend. It’ll be a nice bonus for Crusaders to get back on a winning track after two successive defeats.

Up next for Linfield is Ballymena, who appear to be suffering from a dose of Cliftonvilleitis by suffering a dip in form since an Irish Cup exit, them too resigned to the UEFA Cup Play-Offs.

It’s a must-win game for Linfield. They all are.

Unfortunately for Linfield, Crusaders still have a hand on the trophy. It’s a very sweaty hand hanging on desperately.

Linfield just have to keep winning and hoping. What we are hoping or is a lot less than it was in mid February.

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 7.4.2017

1. The Charlatans – Plastic Machinery
2. Kasabian – You’re In Love With A Psycho
3. James – Sit Down (Game Of Thrones 2017 version)
4. Shed Zeppelin – Good Times, Bad Times, Disco Down
5. The Sundowners – Great Beauty

So, concert news this week. Kasabian, supported by Blossoms playing CHSQ in August. Yes please!!!! Already happy with Kasabian, but Blossoms as support is the icing on the cake. I predicted that Blossoms would be coming back for a festival appearance this summer when I reviewed their recent Limelight gig. I wonder will Orla who got dumped be there. It was a you had to be there moment.

Also, George Ezra will playing The Limelight at the end of next month, previewing songs from his second album. Hopefully, as good as his last Belfast gig. Already got my ticket in the presale. You can read about his last visit here.

Meanwhile, Pet Shop Boys have announced a second Dublin gig in September due to demand. How about a Belfast gig due to demand? I bet they do one on the night Northern Ireland play Czech Republic so I can’t go. What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?

Meanwhile, Bangor Court House might be turned into a concert venue. Interesting, very interesting.

Ryan Adams update. Still looking for a ticket for Ulster Hall in September. Standing, Face Value. Ta very much.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : SHOOT – 10.4.1982

It’s the FA Cup Semi-Finals, and this is reflected on the cover with a player from each competing club – Leicester City, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion – are featured.

As you open the magazine, there is a double page spread on the two games, with a player from each club giving their thoughts ahead of their game.

In news, Bobby Charlton was complimentary about Wigan Athletic, stating they had the potential to become a top flight club. They eventually would be, 23 years later.

After having their most successful season in the top flight, Brighton players are bringing out a pop record called “In Brighton”, described by captain Steve Foster as “It’s got a pop disco sound and it’s very complimentary about the team”

Talking of pop records, Northern Ireland have done one as well for the World Cup with former Eurovision winner Dana. It got better for the squad. As well as getting to do a record with Dana, they got a £77,000 bonus between them.

It’s all change at Everton with manager Howard Kendall placing his emphasis on young players, including goalkeeper Neville Southall, who he compared to Peter Shilton.

In competitions, you can win a trip to the World Cup Final in Madrid.

Phil Thompson uses his column to bemoan the standard of refereeing in Liverpool’s European Cup exit against CSKA Sofia, claiming they were robbed. Down to the Semi-Final stage, Thompson predicts that the final will be between Aston Villa and Bayern Munich,

There is a full page feature on club football in the USA.

There is a poster of Pat Jennings for a series called “World Cup Stars To Watch”. Jennings was rumoured to be attracting attention from clubs in North America. Not content with heading to Spain that summer, Jennings was also looking at trying to play in the 1986 World Cup.

In Scotland, the Scottish Cup is also at the Semi-Final stage, with both games being previewed. Danny McGrain’s column discusses a recent 5-0 win for Celtic against Rangers, but it wasn’t their Ibrox rivals they faced, it was a Hong Kong team with the same name, during a mid season break for Celtic.

Staying in Scotland, one of those Semi-Finalists, Forfar Athletic get previewed. Airdrie have tried a novel way to improve morale, by getting a comedian, Hector Nicol to entertain his team before matches. Nicol’s humour was described by Shoot as “Making Billy Connolly look like a choirboy”

With the World Cup approaching, Cameroon get a double page feature, with an interview with Francois Doumbe Lea and a profile of their manager, Branko Zutic.

Manchester City manager John Bond uses his column to clarify rumours about his son Kevin’s future, stating that he was staying at Maine Road.

In adverts, there is an advert for Panini’s World Cup sticker book, which is going to be free in Shoot in the coming weeks.

Going to the World Cup is Jim McLean, as part of Scotland’s backroom team. He combine that with his role as Dundee United manager, and Director at Tannadice, a role he has recently accepted.

1981-1982 was the first season of 3 points for a win in England, and Ray Wilkins uses his column to declare it a success, though admitting he’s not a fan of it.

In international news, El Salvador will only be taking 18 players to the World Cup due to costs, while Felix Magath faces a race against time to be fit for the World Cup due to injury, with the story accompanied by a picture of him being visited in hospital by Horst Hrubesch, Ernst Happel and Gunter Netzer.

In adverts, you could buy pyjamas in the colours of your favourite team’s kit – as long as you supported England, Northern Ireland or Argentina. There were also various club team options not pictured.

Gary Shaw uses his column to describe the European Cup Semi-Final draw against Anderlecht as “Ideal” as it avoided a trip behind the Iron Curtain (CSKA Sofia) and the favourites (Bayern Munich)

Shaw also comments on team-mate Allan Evans getting a Scotland recall, stating that playing against Dynamo Kiev in the previous round could be helpful for Scotland’s group game against the Soviet Union, as most of their squad is made up of Dynamo players.

He signs off by wishing Tottenham Hotspur good luck in their European Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final against Barcelona.

Villa and Spurs ties are previewed from the Spanish and Belgian viewpoints, with West Ham’s Francois Van Der Elst stating that the winners of Aston Villa v Anderlecht will go on to win the trophy.

The magazine ends with an interview with Martin Buchan, who states he is not planning to leave Manchester United, despite losing the captaincy.

DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-1 LINFIELD 1.4.2017

Football is all about improvements, and doing better than you had previously. Last season, Linfield were Runners-Up in three competitions.

This season, they’ve already won one of those competitions, the County Antrim Shield, and kicked-off at Mourneview Park still in contention to win the other two trophies that eluded them last season. That was still the case when they left the pitch today.

For the record, we’ve just accepted that we’re never going to win the League Cup ever again and will be out of the competition by October each season.

Linfield got a lot of joy attacking down the left hand side in the first-half, with one cross agonisingly missing everyone in the box, while another resulted in an Andrew Waterworth cros that was deflected behind for a corner. It looked like being only a matter of time until Linfield scored.

Dungannon were able to ride out that storm and came more into the game, their bets opportunity coming when Dougie Wilson headed over for a corner.

Neither side had a shot on goal of note in a goalless first-half.

This wasn’t a new situation for Linfield, having faield to scored a first-half goal in any of the previous rounds in this season’s Irish Cup.

Linfield started the second-half better and had a glorious opportunity to take the lead when a penalty was awarded for a foul on Jamie Mulgrew.

Having scored four penalties out of four in recent weeks, Stephen Lowry was due a miss, and so it proved when Andy Coleman saved his shot, and Lowry and Andrew Waterworth managed to miss the rebound between them.

Dungannon fans would have had some justification in believing this was the sort of thing that happens when it is your day.

Paul Smyth and Niall Quinn were next to be frustrated as Coleman saved left foot shots from both of them, while Aaron Burns had a goal disallowed for a foul.

It was the sort of game that could only finish 1-0. The longer it stayed 0-0, the more you got that feeling.

David Healy turned to his bench by bringing on Kirk Millar for Niall Quinn.

You also got the feeling that Dungannon were going to get a moment. That came when Peter McMahon burst through and had a deflected shot look set to go in, only for Roy Carroll to pull off a dramatic save.

As extra-time loomed, a cross found Stephen Lowry, who found just enough space to place the ball home from inside the six yard box. Linfield had the lead in a game that looked destined to finish 1-0.

Dungannon never looked like equalising. In fact, Linfield almost got a second on the break when a Paul Smyth shot went just wide, as they saw out the game to set up a Final against Coleraine on May 6th. Hopefully, a repeat of 1982 and 2008 rather than a repeat of 1975 and 1977.

Elsehwere in football this week, Edinburgh City have announced that they will be playing at Ainslie Park, home of Spartans for the next three seasons while Meadowbank Stadium is redeveloped.

I’m curious to see what Meadowbank Stadium will look like. At the moment, it always seemed like a grim place to watch football, which is why never gave Edinburgh City any consideration when I visit Edinburgh every August.

Edinburgh in August can wait, it’s all about next week and Crusaders at home.

The games can’t come soon enough.

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