Five wins from their opening five games didn’t automatically mean that Linfield would be Champions. By the same analysis, defeat at Seaview on Tuesday didn’t mean that Linfield’s title hopes were over.
Despite that, Ballinamallard’s visit to Windsor Park today was a game they had to win. Firstly, to avoid Tuesday’s result being considered the start of a slump rather than a blip, and most importantly, to keep up with the sides at the top of the League, especially with Coleraine, Crusaders and Glenavon all having home games they were expected to win.
Linfield fans arriving at Windsor Park today won’t be returning there for a Linfield match until 21st October due to a run of six successive away matches, including a first League meeting of the season with Coleraine.
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of early Linfield pressure, it was Attack v Defence, and Linfield were doing all the attacking.
Louis Rooney dispossessed a defender and cut in, only to have his shot saved by Ballinamallard’s keeper. Chris Casement had a shot saved while Jordan Stewart curled a shot wide. It looked like a matter of time before Linfield scored.
On twelve minutes, Windsor Park got a shock. Not a Ballinamallard goal, but a player being booked in the first fifteen minutes of a game, as Neil Brennan was booked for a cynical foul on Jamie Mulgrew. Apparantly, referees are allowed to do that. Let’s hope it becomes a regular thing when teams try to cyncially foul in the opening minutes of a game.
Ballinamallard did have a chance when a free-kick from a wide angle at the edge of the box which was easily saved by Roy Carroll. That was all they offered in the first-half.
It was then Aaron Burns turn to be frustrated as he dragged his shot wide after being played through.
Burns made up for it soon after by playing in Jordan Stewart, whose shot went through the keeper’s legs to put Linfield 1-0 up.
It wasn’t as lucrative as is last goal against La Fiorita, but it felt just as important, giving Linfield the breakthrough against opposition designed to frustrate.
The pressure from Linfield continued, with Mark Haughey and Louis Rooney missing from close range immei=diately after each other, when one of them should have scored.
As the half neared it’s end, it looked like Linfield were going to get an opportunity to get that second goal they needed when Aaron Burns was brought down, but no penalty was given. It may have only been a slight touch, but it was still a foul. It was the second week in a row Burns had been denied a clear penalty.
With the game still in the balance, Ballinamallard came out and felt confident of getting a point. In the early minutes of the second-half, Ryan Curran got clear of a defender but his shot was saved by Carroll.
Ballinamallard even started doing fancy flicks as they looked for an equaliser. Linfield knew if they got the second goal, that would be the points. While the game was in the balance, Ballinamallard always felt they would get something.
Josh Robinson was lucky to only get a yellow for a foul as a Ballinamallard player raced to goal. The fact the foul was on the halfway line worked in his favour.
Just after the hour, Jordan Stewart put an end to the tension by converting a cross to make it 2-0 and secure the points.
A few minutes later, he was played through and made it 3-0, completing his hat-trick.
With the game won, David Healy turned to his bench, giving gametime to Brandon Adams and Ryan Strain.
Neither of them could get on the scoresheet, but Mark Haughey did, heading home from close range to make it 4-0.
One pointless observation from this match was that this was the first League game that Linfield didn’t do a “Tottenham Corner”.
As mentioned earlier, Windsor Park will be a foreign country to Linfield fans over the next few weeks due to six successive away games coming up.
The first of those is a County Antrim Shield game against Ballyclare on Tuesday before a League trip to Warrenpoint on Friday.
Playing on Friday allows Linfield the opportunity to put pressure on Coleraine ahead of their match on Saturday.
A 2 goal win will put Linfield top while a 4-3 win will have both sides level with identical goals for and goal difference.
After that, a trip to Solitude. Linfield might do mid 90s Tottenham corners, but Cliftonville do mid 90s Tottenham disregard for defending.
I’d be very confident that our eight man midfield can cut off the supply to their four man attack.
Elsewhere today, Coleraine and Glenavon unsurprisingly won, while Crusaders could only draw at home to Ards.
That results lessens the damage of Tuesday’s result, only slightly, as we’ve only lost one point (across two games) this week to Crusaders instead of three.
Next weekend, Coleraine travel to The Oval, while Crusaders do so the following Monday (It’s like on Sky Sports).
Glentoran’s (relatively) good start to the season could be beneficial to Linfield, as they could help derail Linfield’s rivals. Obviously, i’m hoping for draws. Come on, you don’t seriously think i’ll want them to win?
I’m not going to Warrenpoint next Friday as i’m going to Culture Night instead. I missed it last year and I don’t want to miss it two years in a row. We’re at Warrenpoint in January, so I won’t be missing out.
I’ll have my lucky scarf in my right hand pocket as per superstition.
I’m hoping to travel to Tannadice for the match against Dundee United but it’s looking unlikely due to the prices of flights out of Glasgow on the Sunday night.
It’s a pity, as I wanted to see the DC Thomson statues in the City Centre (I always get DC Comics and DC Thompson mixed up. Now that would be a comic book crossover I could get into) as well as seeing Tannadice and Den’s Park so close together in the flesh.
That game allows Linfield the opportunity to play at a ground that has hosted a European Final. However, come Wednesday, Linfield could be playing home matches at a ground which is set to host a European Final.
Windsor Park has applied to host the European Super Cup Final in August 2019. The host venue will be confirmed on Wednesday.
UEFA have published a report of the proposed venues on their website. You can find it here. Skip to page 58.
In short, the report for Windsor Park states :
The IFA proposes a smoke free stadium (Ha ha ha. I’ll believe that when I see it. Trust me, i’d love it, but recent internationals make me cynical)
No free transport from City Centre to Windsor Park for fans
More than the required amount of wheelchair spaces needed.
It meets UEFA’s requirement for supporter-toilet ratio. Yes, such a thing exists.
Food facilities for matchday staff is small.
Any VIP area for May McFetridge and Julian Simmons to hang out with Ruud Gullit and Lothar Mattheus would have to be built outside the ground.
Not enough space for TV studios.
Somebody will have to “have a word” regarding lifting restrictions on late night flights after the game.
Number of hotels for fans and teams are adequate.
Belfast is a “Straightforward city”. UEFA’s words, not mine. I’ve no idea what that means.
Anyway, forget about 2019, let’s just concentrating on racking up points prior to the visit to Coleraine on October 14th, especially being three points behind and not playing in the League on October 7th while Coleraine are in action.
We’ll need every point we can get between now and then.