After Crusaders win on Friday night, Linfield were already playing catch-up as they kicked-off their opening match of the season, just as they did for 37 out of 38 matches last season.
As Carrick Rangers arrived at Windsor Park, they would face a Linfield side with five changes from their last domestic game, last season’s Irish Cup Final due to injury (Waterworth, Callacher, Clarke) and suspension (Burns, Lowry)
A team who usually struggles on the opening day, with five players missing and facing a team with ten men behind the ball. This had the potential of being a difficult afternoon for Linfield.
While Carrick were winning a lot of headers in the air, Linfield found other routes to get at their goal with low crosses, short corners and balls on the ground. Carrick could handle it, and it looked like a goal was coming.
Niall Quinn had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart fired over, before a low Niall Quinn shot hit the back of the net to put Linfield 1-0 up.
With only 15 minutes on the clock, it was the early goal Linfield needed to avoid getting frustrated.
Andrew Mitchell fired over as Linfield looked for a second goal, while a Jamie Mulgrew cross agonisingly evaded both Paul Smyth and Jordan Stewart when just a touch would have delivered a goal.
As half-time approached, Linfield got a second goal when Kirk Millar headed home from a Niall Quinn cross. That was surely the three points secured.
The second-half was attack against defence again, as Linfield aimed for a 3rd goal that would kill off the game, even though Carrick’s lack of attacking threat so far suggested that 2-0 would be enough.
Robert Garrett and Mark Stafford both had unsuccessful attempts at goal. Stafford was later substituted for Josh Robinson, denying him the opportunity to score against Carrick for the forth successive home game against them.
Linfield looked like getting that 3rd goal when Jordan Stewart won a penalty.
With Lowry, Burns and Waterworth not playing, there was no obvious taker. Paul Smyth had missed the only one he had taken.
Jordan Stewart stepped up and missed it, Carrick’s keeper gathering the ball on the line when it looked like he might accidentally score an own goal.
It was Linfield’s seventh penalty in their last thirteen matches, four of which have been missed. That stat doesn’t include the ridiculous penalty shoot-out against Glentoran in late July.
It didn’t matter as Linfield cruised to a 2-0 win. Carrick had so few attacks, we didn’t get to hear Roy Carroll shout “GET OUT!! GET OUT!!!”
The only disappointment was that Linfield couldn’t get more goals, a four goal win would have put them top. However, Linfield fans will know from last season that being top at the end of matchday 38 is all that matters.
Up next, a trip to Ards.