LINFIELD 2-0 ARDS 28.10.2017

It has been 20 years since Ards beat Linfield. It felt like 20 years since Linfield beat anyone, with a sole League Cup win over Ballinamallard being sanwiched inbetween three successive League defeats and a Scottish Challenge Cup exit.

As well as being 20 years unbeaten against Ards, Linfield had amassed some high scoring wins such as 4-0 (multiple times), 5-1 (multiple times), 5-0 (multiple times), 7-0, 5-2 and 7-2. Just a scrappy 1-0 would have done today.

Crusaders expected win over Ballinamallard made this even more of a must-win game for Linfield, especially with Coleraine and Glenavon having games they were expected to win, which they did.

Linfield made four changes to line-up from Monday night. I even made a line-up change myself, binning my lucky scarf after three successive defeats. There’s no room for sentiment in football.

Linfield lined up with a 4-4-2, but with Andrew Mitchell playing in right midfield, another case of trying to shoehorn three centre midfielders into two positions, especially with Ross Clarke and Stephen Fallon on the bench.

In the opening minute, there was already more fluidity in Linfield’s attacks, with Matthew Clarke and Jordan Stewart linking up down the left. Clarke’s crosses caused panic in Ards defence but Linfield were unable to take advantage.

Still in the early minutes, a misplaced pass played in David McAllister, who saw his shot saved by Roy Carroll when it looked certain he would give Ards the lead.

I’m not even sure if it could described as a shock lead, as having won their last two games, Ards were the form team prior to kick off.

Louis Rooney thought he was going to head Linfield in front, only to see the ball deflect away from him.

It was becoming frustrating for Linfield. If they could get an early goal, they could really build on it. With each passing minute, Linfield were facing the paradox of it being a long afternoon while time was also running out.

Andrew Waterworth was next to be frustrated as he was played in behind Ards defence with only the keeper to beat. It wasn’t a clear opportunity to score, with the keeper rushing out, he had to get a foot on it and send it goalwards. He did just that, but the keeper was quickly out to smother it and deny him.

A few more weeks and a few more games behind him, it might have been 1-0 to Linfield.

Mark Haughey then shot wide from inside the box as the first goal continued to elude Linfield.

It almost came for Ards when a misplaced pass fell to Guillaume Keke, but he was denied by Carroll.

Having come out to deny Waterworth, it was Chris Casement who was fruastrated by Ards keeper Aaron Kerr coming out to make himself big.

Eventually the goal came. There was nothing sophisticated about it, a cross in, bodies in the penalty area, with Jordan Stewart getting enough space and time to set himself up to blast home.

You could see the relief all around Windsor Park.

As the second-half kicked off, Linfield needed a second goal, especially when Keke headed well wide from a free-kick in the early minutes.

That came on 52 minutes when Josh Robinson headed home to make it 2-0. Even though Linfield had gifted Ards two first-half opportunities, that was the three points realistically secured.

David Healy certainly thought so, despite the events at Solitude a few weeks back, bringing on Cameron Stewart and Aaron Burns for Andrew Waterworth and Louis Rooney.

With Rooney and Waterworth both making their way back after injury, it was an opportunity to rest them both, especially with a County Antrim Shield meeting on Monday night.

At least Linfield will be facing the same opponents and won’t be disadvantaged in terms of turnaround time. I’d expect a lot of changes to the starting line-up for this game.

I won’t be at that game as I usually give midweek cup games a miss, plus i’ll be at Liam Gallagher. Have I mentioned that i’m going to Liam Gallagher? I’m going to Liam Gallagher on Monday.

He’s coming back to Belsonic next June on a Saturday night. That is not going to end well. And the World Cup is on.

Healy was justified in bringing on some subs, as the game meandered to a comfortable Linfield win, with Healy bringing on Stephen Fallon as his final sub.

With ten minutes remaining, there was a moment of worry for Linfield when Roy Carroll was forced into a double save. In doing so, he was well off his line when the ball fell to Gareth Tommons outside the box, who fired just wide.

Thankfully, as it would have made the final ten minutes nervous, especially as Linfield had taken their foot off the gas and didn’t look like they were able to pick it up again.

That was it, 2-0 and a return to winning ways. The big fat 0 next to Ards name is a positive. Quite how it was achieved, I don’t know. If we continue to give opponents clear opportunities like that, we won’t be so lucky in the future.

Hopefully, Jordan Stewart will now be able to get a run of games, and that includes the big games, not being sacrificed for more defensive players.

It would be nice if he could be joined by a more attacking minded player on the right. Andrew Mitchell is a decent footballer, but he’s not a right winger.

The next run of games gives us an opportunity to build some momentum ahead of a big run of games in late November. If we continue winning through November, at worst, we’ll be seven points behind Coleraine and closer or possibly above Glenavon and/or Crusaders.

The next two League games against Ballinamallard and Ballymena are essential, especially when there will be guaranteed progress if they win those two.

Next Saturday, Coleraine travel to Glenavon, while the following Saturday, Crusaders are inactive due to playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup.

Six more points, and Linfield’s League position will be looking a lot better by the time Coleraine visit Windsor Park on November 18th.

Small progress today but back to winning ways. I’d forgotten what it felt like.

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OMD – LIVE AT MANDELA HALL 24.10.2017

“It’s great to be back, it’s been a long time” said OMD singer Andy McCluskey to the crowd at Mandela Hall. He wasn’t wrong. It had been 8 years since they were last in Belfast, supporting Simple Minds at The Odyssey. You have to go back to 1991 (Ulster Hall) for their last headline concert in Belfast, referenced by McCluskey during the set. Paul Humphries didn’t remember that gig, possibly because he had left the band by that stage.

I love Simple Minds and OMD. To be honest, I have no clue why I didn’t go to that Odyssey gig. I genuinely can’t think why. What a wasted opportunity.

It is the pester power of Northern Ireland fans that brought them back to Belfast, as McCluskey recently stated in an interview with Sunday Life.

For me, it began with a sick day off school in 1996.

I flicked through the channels and spotted something on the music channels (There were only two back then, it was VH1)

It was a cheery, happy, Britpop song called Walking On The Milky Way by a band called OMD. I loved it. Little did I know it was different, very different from the rest of their back catalogue.

I did know, not to confused them with OMC, who were in the charts around the same time. How bizarre.

A while later, I heard Enola Gay on a radio station. I knew I liked two OMD songs. I only knew two OMD songs.

By 2002, I had recently joined the Music Library at Belfast Central Library. I decided to be curious and borrow The OMD Singles, a 1998 Greatest Hits compilation.

I was not to be disappointed. Not once was the skip button pressed. It became one of my favourite albums.

At this point, Andy McCluskey was enjoying chart success, including the number 1s that eluded OMD in his new role as Songwriter for Atomic Kitten.

OMD would later reform and tour, but there was to be no Belfast gig, until now.

When I arrived at the venue, I wasn’t really in the mood for it. I was tired, had a sore head, and was drenched due to walking from Belfast City Hospital. The reason why I was parked there because people in Elmwood Avenue found parking one car in one parking bay to be too much fucking effort.

Forget about The Punishment Of Luxury, this was The Punishment Of Idiot Drivers.

The band appeared on stage, with Andy doing his trademark Dad Dancing. At 58, he is of peak Dad Dancing age. His best Dad Dancing years are still ahead of him. In truth, he has been dad dancing since his early 20s.

I googled his name for this article just to make sure if was McCluskey rather than McCloskey. The first suggestion was “Andy McCluskey Dancing”

Two songs in, he grabbed his Bass, proceeding to play it like Brian May rather than John Deacon.

To keep up with the Queen theme, we even had the fans doing a Radio Ga Ga style clapping in unison during Locomotion.

McCluskey then asked the crowd if they had their dancing shoes on. He certainly had. The answer was a resounding yes.

He was putting his life in his hands dancing on stage, saying that the stage was sticky due to years of cheap university beer. Ahhh, the (in)famous Mandela Hall sticky floor. I’d forgotten about it until he mentioned it. It wasn’t too bad where I was. You don’t think they’ve got round to finally cleaning it?

I wasn’t sure if I was an a Pop Concert or an Aerobics Class. Either way, it was brilliant.

Nevermind Aerobics Oz Style, this was Arobics OMD Style. I might pitch that to Sky Sports as a TV show idea.

If Joan Of Arc had a heart, it probably would have been racing from all the dancing.

Paul and Andy then had an onstage argument, sort of. It was staged as Paul, dripping of sweat, complained about standing under the lights, and that Andy’s job was a “Piece of cake”, so Andy invited him out to sing, which he did, performing Forever Live And Die.

While doing so, he was hit by a bra thrown from the crowd, but carried on like a pro, adding that the bra wasn’t his size.

Fans arriving were given a chance to vote for a song to appear on the setlist on a poll via the website, with a magic password for this at the venue.

The choices were The New Stone Age and Generic Engineering.

Genetic Engineering won with 75% of the vote.

Andy introduced this by saying that people had voted wisely, unlike a couple of Junes ago when they voted for Trump.

I think he’s got Brexit and Trump a bit confused there.

There were a lot of hits played – Messages, Locomotion, Souvenir, Tesla Girls, Joan Of Arc, Maid Of Orleans, So In Love, Forever Live And Die, Enola Gay and Sailing On The Seven Seas.

Not bad.

We also got to hear new song The Punishment Of Luxury, the excellent title track to their new album.

I would have loved it if they played If You Leave, If You Want It or Dreaming, but that is being greedy.

During the encore, they played the song that started it all for me, Walking On The Milky Way, with a slight change in arrangement.

They could just about fit four people on stage, they were hardly going to fit an orchestra as well.

As they left the stage, they said they won’t leave it so long before returning to Belfast. If they don’t return before 2043, we’ll be demanding answers.

In 2043, Andy McCluskey will be 84 years old. He’ll probably still be energetically dancing around on stage.

In the words of If You Leave, promise me, just one more night.

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LINFIELD 2-5 CRUSADERS 23.10.2017

After conceding last minute winners on the previous three Saturdays, Linfield will have been glad to have seen their match against Crusaders moved to the Monday night for broadcast on Sky Sports.

After six successive away games, they would have been doubly glad this game was at Windsor Park.

Having drawn two and lost one of their last three home games, Crusaders wouldn’t have been too disappointed this match was at Windsor Park.

It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see these two sides separated by a point at this stage of the season. It may have been a surprise that both were in the chasing pack looking to keep in touch with Coleraine at the top, with Linfield kicking off ten points behind Coleraine and Crusaders eleven points behind.

Forget about Coleraine, both sides were simply looking to keep in touch with 2nd place Glenavon, five points ahead of Linfield and six points ahead of Crusaders at kick-off.

Despite the absence of Jamie Mulgrew through injury, Linfield lined-up with three centre midfielders, despite it not working against Crusaders the previous month.

Linfield started off slow and sluggish and Crusaders were more up for it. Crusaders had an early chance when Gavin Whyte burst through and crossed for Jordan Owens, whose shot was blocked, and Paul Heatley fired over. Linfield’s defence was all over the place.

Linfield were so slow and sluggish, Crusaders didn’t even have to do any tactical fouls in the opening 15 minutes.

Linfield then began to show more as an attacking force, with both Mark Haughey and Andrew Waterworth having shots saved after runs towards goal.

It was Crusaders who took the lead when a low cross saw Paul Heatley fire home.

Just after the half hour, it was 2-0 when a low cross from Mark McChrystal was headed into his own net by Mark Stafford. There wasn’t a Crusaders player anywhere near the six yard box.

Within a few minutes, Linfield’s best attack saw Kirk Millar get in behind Crusaders defence and his low cross forced Billy Joe Burns into a last ditch clearance just as Matthew Clarke looked set to put it into the net.

The respite was brief for Crusaders as Mark Stafford headed home from the resulting corner.

It was the second successive match against Crusaders that Stafford had scored a prequaliser. This time, Linfield had more time to do something about it.

It was no coincidence that the first time Linfield really attacked Crusaders, they got a goal. It also meant that Linfield had the momentum going into half-time.

Or so we thought.

Linfield had a free-kick in Crusaders half, an opportunity to apply pressure, which was easily cleared after a poor delivery. Crusaders countered which resulted in them hitting the bar, with Gavin Whyte having enough time to control the shot and set himself up to score to make it 3-1.

The attack should have been halted on the halfway line when Robert Garrett had an opportunity to do a tactical foul. Take one for the team, and we go in 1-2 down and can regroup.

Also, there were enough defenders in the box to react when the ball hit the bar, to get there first, to get in the road, to do anything to keep the ball out of the net.

Crusaders were set up to counter attack, and it was working a treat.

That wasn’t the end of the action in the first-half, as Stephen Lowry had an opportunity to head home from inside the box. He should have been hitting the target at least.

Crusaders appeared to stop playing the start of the second-half, similar to Glenavon when they had a half-time two goal lead in November 2016.

Aaron Burns chased a lost cause and was able to win possession and play the ball across goal. Nobody reacted quick enough, or thought he would win the ball. If they did, they would have had a certain goal. The attack ended with Stephen Lowry having a low shot blocked.

Burns then pulled a goal back for Linfield to make it 3-2. Linfield now had the momentum. They now looked the most likely team to win.

Looking an equaliser, Jordan Stewart came on from the bench. Like at Seaview last month, this was a game he should have been starting.

He came on for Kirk Millar. It should have been both on the pitch instead of one for one.

Crusaders knew that Linfield had them where they wanted them. We were then treated to timewasting at every free-kick, throw-in and goal kick.

As per usual, the officials were too thick or inept to do something about it.

While the Ballboys were quick in returning the ball to restart the game, Crusaders players were either kicking the ball away, or walking away from the scene to retrieve the ball that had just gone out.

A couple of yellow cards could have sorted this, but the referee did nothing. They knew they could make a mug out of him, and they made the most of the invitation to do so..

Linfield need to get smarter about this and start chipping away at officials to get it in their minds that it needs to be addressed. Let’s face it, opposition players aren’t slow in letting referees know if a Linfield player looks at them funny.

With the momentum lost, Linfield needed inspiration from somewhere, to get that golden chance. It didn’t look like coming. The closest they came was when an Andrew Mitchell cross evaded everyone and went just wide.

On 78s minutes, saw the introduction of Louis Rooney from the bench. You could be justified in asking why he wasn’t brought on earlier, especially when Linfield had so much momentum in their favour just after pulling it back to 3-2.

With less than ten minutes to go, a quick throw-in set Paul Heatley free and his cross was diverted into his own net by Jimmy Callacher to make it 4-2.

It got worse a few minutes later when they made a hash of the most basic of clearances, the ball falling to Philip Lowry to make it 5-2. It was getting silly now.

If you think Linfield fans were annoyed, Dundalk fans were just as annoyed as local media erroniously proclaimed this the first time that Linfield had conceded five at Windsor Park since 1994.

There is something not clicking at Linfield. It just seems to be a perfect storm, with players struggling for fitness and form at the same time.

Is it clutching at straws to blame Eventsec? I mean, our results have taken a downturn since they started sponsoring the back of our shirts. I’m sure it’s purely coincidental.

As much as Andrew Waterworth is trying to get back to fitness, goalscoring isn’t a problem. We’ve scored in every League game this season. We scored two in defeats to Cliftonville and Crusaders. We shouldn’t be needing six goals to win at home.

Interestingly, this match was the first time that last season’s first choice back four played together this season. That shouldn’t really be an excuse. All five goals were shocking and embarrassing to concede. Four of them were simply being second to the ball.

It was bad in the ground. I didn’t realise how bad until I watched it back on TV, and yes, I am aware it’s not Halloween until next week.

The defensive shambles was made even worse when you saw how defensively Linfield lined-up in midfield with three centre midfielders.

We might have options in that position, but we don’t have to play them all. Pick two, and get on with it. Let other teams adapt their line-up for us rather than picking our team to stifle others.

Crusaders could live with us when we attacked them in the County Antrim Shield Final. Glenavon, Coleraine and Cliftonville couldn’t handle us in the title run-in when we attacked them.

It’s easy to say that Linfield miss Paul Smyth. They do, obviously. It must be pointed out that he missed two months during last season, and we won eight out of the ten matches he missed.

When he returned from injury, he was phased back in, only making a sub appearance in the County Antrim Shield Final. Don’t forget, he missed the game at Solitude when Linfield secured the title.

We can play without him, we have players (Ross Clarke, Jordan Stewart) who can take on his role. We need to get them into the game and not stockpiling centre midfielders.

When you turn up defensively in big games, you don’t stand up, you fall back. We need to start standing up in big games.

Thankfully, we have a generous fixture list coming up. You’d like to think that games against Ards, Ballinamallard and Ballymena would result in nine points, and a confidence boost ahead of a big run of games in November.

We play Ards twice in three days, with a County Antrim Shield match on the following Monday. I’ll be missing that as i’ll be at Liam Gallagher. Have I mentioned that i’m going to Liam Gallagher? Yeah, i’m going to Liam Gallagher next week.

Bad runs of form aren’t new in recent years for Linfield. Thankfully, they’ve recovered well from them.

Three successive defeats in October 2014 were followed by eight wins and a draw from the next nine games.

Four successive defeats in November 2015 were followed by seven wins a draw from the next eight League matches.

Football came change very quickly.

November sees a run of games against Crusaders (League Cup), Coleraine and Glenavon. That match against Glenavon has been brought forward to the Friday night.

That’s away games against Warrenpoint, Ballymena and Glenavon all moved to Friday nights this season. If we’re going to start playing away matches on Friday nights in pain in the arse locations, we might as well join the League Of Ireland.

Windsor Park’s first game in November will be Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play-Off against Switzerland. We avoided Italy, that was key. There were no byes after that.

There are two ways of looking at it.

Switzerland were the 2nd place team with the best record and thus the toughest opponent.

Or, they were in a poor group and aren’t as good as their stats suggest.

I’ll let you decide what way you want to look at it.

Belfast Telegraph’s coverage of the draw included a story about a so-called outrage about the introduction video for Northern Ireland featuring the team’s name in Irish.

Nonsense clickbait. Who exactly was outraged? When you watch that video, people are usually screaming at the screen for them to hurry up and do the bloody draw, never mind paying attention to captions.

If we qualify, they can out our name in Klingon for all I care.

Meanwhile, i’ve booked a weekend in London for late January. Obviously, i’ll be hoping to take in a football match while i’m there, even though it’s not a football trip.

Brentford, Millwall and Leyton Orient are at home that weekend, but it is also the FA Cup 4th Round. So, watch this space.

TV games for December in the Premier League were announced, with United v City being moved to Sunday, meaning United V Bournemouth will be a Wednesday. My preferred cay, even though i’ll be there from Tuesday to Thursday. Hoping for another game in Greater Manchester to take in on the Tuesday.

Hopefully, by the time I head to Manchester, this will all be a bad memory and Linfield’s season will be back on track.

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 27.10.2017

1. Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending
2. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Fort Knox
3. OMD – Dreaming
4. Liam Gallagher – For What It’s Worth
5. Tiny Magnetic Pets – Girl In A White Dress

It seems that Belsonic announcements get earlier and earlier. There’s one this morning. It’ll probably be some shite DJ. If it is someone I like, i’ll probably end up begrudgingly going.

It’s become a joyless experience in recent years being surrounded by shitfaced 15 year old and spending the whole night having to hold your nose and cover your mouth due to a plague of smelly tramps who can go a few hours without a fag or a vape.

I remember when Belsonic used to be good.

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MELODY MAKER – 27.9.2000

JJ72, remember them? They were the cover stars of this edition of Melody Maker in late September 2000.

In news, Blur have announced a new single, Music Is My Radar, to promote their Greatest Hits album, and Melody Maker canvasses fans for their views, with mixed responses.

Anarchy reigned at Green Day’s gig at Virgin Megastore to promote their new album Warning, spraypainting in the store and tearing into Slipknot and Blink 182.

Travis fans have launched a website dedicated to the hotness of Dougie Payne. The website is sadly no more.

There was a new series of The 11 O’Clock Show on Channel 4, with new presenters, Iain Lee and Sarah Alexander.

Adam, Izzy and Anna from Hollyoaks were this week’s Singles Reviewers, giving the award for Single Of The Week to J Mascis + The Fog with Where’d You Go.

This magazine came with a free 24 page guide to student life.

In reviews, Melody Maker paid a visit to see Radiohead in concert, and had Coldplay’s gigs in Cambridge and Oxford as their pick of upcoming gigs.

Green Day’s new album got 3 and a half stars out of 5, after all the anarchy in Virgin Megastore.

Reef talk to Melody Maker about the making of their album Getaway, going through the process in chronological order.

PAUL HEATON AND JACQUI ABBOTT – LIVE AT THE LIMELIGHT 21.10.2017

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott returned to Belfast, a 4th concert since 2014, for a concert at The Limelight, a venue they last played in June 2014, with their last two Belfast concerts being in Ulster Hall.

It was billed as an early show, with Heaton and Abbot on stage just after 8.30pm. The crowd were ready for it, the venue packed as the support act took the stage.

Members of their backing band casually wandered onto the stage, with drums and keyboards kicking off proceedings. It looked like a false start as the crowd waited for Heaton and Abbott to appear, before they eventually appeared.

The crowd were clapping and and footstomping along, as they did for most of the concert.

Heaton stated that this was the 25th time he’d performed in Belfast, before clarifying that he just made that stat up, and didn’t actually know how many times he had performed there. He did comment that he preferred coming to Belfast in the 80s and 90s when nobody else did, commenting that the same people who were shocked at them visiting the city are now talking about how cool it is now.

As he introduced Old Red Eyes Is Back, he dedicated it to the people of Belfast.

He did also say that it was 30 years since he was first in Belfast, a Pearl Anniversary, and suggests that an appropriate present would be a Pearl Heaton CD.

We were treated to some forgotten Beautiful South classics such as Blackbird On The Wire and The Table. The Table is one of my favourite Beautiful South songs, but it didn’t chart that high due to it being the fourth single from Quench.

At the grand old age of 55, Heaton has passed his driving test, he proudly told the audience, at the fourth time of asking with only one minor. He then proceeded to introduce the backing band and Jacqui Abbott by what car they drive.

The reason why the introductions were taking place mid concert were that, according to Heaton, the tour had been jinxed so far. One of Jacqui Abbott’s friends fell in the shower and had to go to hospital, while the previous night was described as a disaster, but no reason was given why.

The previous night, they were doing a concert in Cork. So, if any Corkonians can fill me in, feel free to do so.

At the start of Rotterdam, Heaton disappeared as this was a song sung solely by Abbott, but he then reappeared to play harmonica at the end.

As with their previous gigs, we delved into Paul Heaton’s back catalogue with The Housemartins and The Beautiful South. With so many songs to choose from, it’s natural that people would be disappointed at not hearing all of their favourites.

Five Get Over Excited, You Keep It All In, Don’t Marry Her and Good As Gold were all on the setlist, that would have kept a lot of people happy.

We also got Perfect Ten, with disco style drums and guitar, allowing Heaton to show off his dad dancing. Abbott was also getting involved. I’m not sure what the woman version of dad dancing is. Mum moving?

It wasn’t planned, but it was a happy accident, but I ended up being surrounded by people who were shorter than me, meaning I got a clear view. Also, everyone in the crowd was so sound, footstomping and clapping away.

You don’t realise how much a dead on audience adds to the enjoyment of a concert until you’re at a concert and surrounded by shitebags.

Thankfully, this was shitebag free.

They were enjoying themselves so much, they lost track of time, and announced they didn’t have long left due to a curfew set by the venue. It was a nice set-up as Heaton asked what the time was, answering his own question that it was Happy Hour.

Because of this, there wasn’t going to be a long encore, just the one song. With only a little time left, it was perhaps apt that they played A Little Time, a country/rockabilly/boogie woogie version of it.

As they left the stage, Heaton told the crowd “See you soon”.

So, touring in 2018?

If so, hopefully, someone from Belsonic is getting ready to book them. I quite fancy a bit of toetapping in the sunshine at Ormeau Park next June.

Ok, sunshine in June in Belfast is a bit ambitous.

Photo Album

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at Ulster Hall 2016

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott live at The Limelight 2014

MAGAZINE ARCHIVE : MATCH – 19.10.1985

Running away with the league title, Mark Hughes is the cover star as Match asks if this is Untied’s best ever team.

Also making a good start was Reading, who secured the record for most successive wins at the start of the season with a win at Newport, and they get three pages.

Frank McAvennie gets a full page profile, with opposing players who have faced West Ham giving their opinions of him, after 10 goals in his first 11 games for West Ham.

Former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty gets asked to compare the current United team with their European Cup winning side of the 1960s, giving each player a mark out of 10, with the 1985 team winning 98 to 89.

In Scotland, the East Terracing at Hampden Park will be renamed the Jock Stein Stand in memory of the former Scotland manager, who died recently.

Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Mirren are all flying the flag for Scottish football in Europe this week.

Also in European competition, Bangor City of Wales have hit the jackpot after being drawn against Spanish giants Atletico Madrid.

Glenn Roeder of Newcastle United gets asks about his favourites, and his favourite cartoon character is The Pink Panther.

COLERAINE 2-1 LINFIELD 14.10.2017

The last time Linfield travelled to Coleraine, they had to win just to stay in the title race. It wasn’t quite the same situation this time around, although defeat wouldn’t have been fatal for Linfield, it would have given them a massive mountain to climb, chasing a Coleraine side looking for their first title since 1974.

We didn’t get a 1970s throwback, but rather, a 1987 throwback, with a controversial winner that would have been the subject of much discussion between Ian St John and his good friend Ray Coyle.

It was one two top of the table clashes on the milestone point of matchday eleven as 3rd place Glenavon travelled to 4th place Crusaders. Linfield in 2nd knew that there would be points dropped below them, they had to make sure that the only team above them would drop points as well.

As clashes of shorts appear to be more strictly monitored in the Irish League these days, Linfield arrived in Coleraine wearing their white away top with white shorts, slightly resembling the Allies kit in Escape To Victory. Linfield just wanted to escape with victory.

There were two noticable additions to Linfield’s starting eleven from their last League game, with Jimmy Callacher and Andrew Waterworth making their first League starts of the season, having both missed the start of domestic action due to injury.

The first attack of the game came about in bizarre fashion when a goal kick from Roy Carroll was headed behind by a Coleraine defender as he tried to clear it upfield. It looked closer to a goal on the TV footage than it was in reality.

For most of the first-half, Coleraine were restricted to speculative long range shots. Too many for my liking. If you keep inviting the opposition to shoot, they will get one eventually. Remember Solitude?

Eventually, Linfield began to put some pressure on Coleraine’s goal, the closest they came was when a Niall Quinn free-kick was tipped over.

There was another attack where Coleraine’s defence was stretched to the point that they had to concede a corner just to get some respite.

The attack came about after a good advantage played by Anderlecht Arnie, refereeing this game, after a Linfield player was taken out at the start of the attack.

Having got a decision right, Anderlecht Arnie then forgot or neglected to book the Coleraine player who committed the foul once the play had stopped. If only that was the worst decision he made in this game.

For the rest of the first-half, Linfield were able to snuff out Coleraine’s attacks. The only moment of worry for Linfield fans came when Josh Robinson headed back to Roy Carroll. In the end, it was an easy catch for him.

There was a big incident in the final minute of the half as Andrew Waterworth was fouled by Stephen O’Donnell as he raced towards goal. Linfield fans screamed for a red card. My own opinion was that the wide position would work in the Coleraine defender’s favour, and so it proved as only a yellow card was awarded.

In the first-half, I was in the stand at the side of the pitch so didn’t get a clear view, and the incident was left off the BBC’s highlights. We’ll just have to wait and see it on Linfield TV, which is embargoed until Tuesday.

A goalless first-half, mirroring the pattern of the game at Coleraine in April with Linfield having most of the ball and not doing much with it while restricting Coleraine to long range shots.

Hopefully, the second-half would follow the same pattern as that game in April.

Well, the early minutes did, as Coleraine took a lead when Brad Lyons headed home from a free-kick.

It was a cheap free-kick conceded after losing possession cheaply.

You know when you’re watching a football match and get a bad vibe before a set piece is taken? That.

Just like in April, Linfield’s response was immediate with an equaliser coming in a more conventional method than a cross that got lucky, with Mark Haughey heading home from a Kirk Millar corner.

Jordan Stewart and Brandon Adams were brought on from the bench as Linfield searched for a winner.

They never looked like getting it, but neither did Coleraine, as both teams cancelled each other out, as the game meandered towards a draw.

That was until injury time approached when Jamie McGonigle was played through, Roy Carroll came out to save the shot, got a hand on it but couldn’t stop it going goalwards, however, he got enough to slow down the trajectory of the ball, to allow Josh Robinson the opportunity to clear the ball on the line, and save a point for Linfield.

Or so we thought.

To everyone’s amazement, a goal was awarded.

I was at the opposite end of the ground, wear glasses, and could clearly see the ball wasn’t over the line. TV footage backed me up. How on earth did the officials make such a wrong decision?

Controversy doesn’t just follow this ref, it stalks him.

In the aftermath of this, the 4th Official held up his board to indicate five minutes of injury time, mainly due to an injury to Brad Lyons. We had then (at least) two minutes delay between a Coleraine substitution and David Healy being sent to the stand. Only one minute to the five was added.

Not that Linfield looked like getting an equaliser, it would have been nice if they had the full amount of time to get it.

Having failed to make the correct call on a major issue, you couldn’t really expect the officials to get a basic act of housekeeping right.

There are questions to be asked of Linfield’s defending, especially as to how Jamie McGonigle was able to get so much space to run through on goal. The point is, Linfield’s defence retrieved the situation and cleared the danger. They were let down by incompetent decision makers.

No doubt, there will be reactionary suggestions that we need VAR in the Irish League. We don’t. We just need competent officials.

I’m not going to pretend that Linfield played well or deserved to win. They didn’t. A draw was a fair result in a game where both sides largely cancelled each other out.

You obviously want to win, but a draw wasn’t a disaster. We might have dropped to 3rd, but Coleraine and Glenavon would have been catchable, and we’d have gained a point on Crusaders.

Now, a seven point gap has emerged. It could be ten by the time Linfield play their next League game on Monday night.

I would expect it to be a ten point deficit by the time Linfield face Crusaders as Coleraine head to Solitude.

Cliftonville might have won their last four League games, three of games are games you would expect them to win. I’ll be surprised if Coleraine don’t beat them next weekend.

Linfield might have overcome a nine point deficit last season, you don’t want to be giving teams a head start.

There seems to be a Cliftonville 2012/2013 vibe about Coleraine where they took an early lead in the table, and gradually increased their lead in the table by a couple of points every few weeks.

Suddenly, next Monday’s game against Crusaders at Windsor Park is a title eliminator rather than a title decider many would have predicted when the fixture list was drawn up.

October has been a turbulent month for Linfield in recent years. We need to put a stop to that as soon as possible.

You may remember the refereeing farce at Mourneview Park last season, and Linfield’s response to that with two of their best pre-Christmas performances in the week that followed.

We’ll have to wait nine days to get it out of our systems. It might have been a good idea to have brought the County Antrim Shield match against Ards forward instead of back.

But waiting is what we’ll have to do, and if Coleraine go ten points clear of us, that is the challenge and we must accept it.

The next change in points difference has to be in our favour if we have ambitions of winning the League.

Again, it was a poor result against a Top Six team. You can’t afford to be a flat track bully in a League where you play each other three to four times a season. This needs to be remedied as soon as possible, especially with Coleraine and Glenavon visiting Windsor Park in November.

I was astounded to have a browse through the Sunday Life’s coverage of the game, where the reporter appeared to be more outraged by Linfield players not doing post match interviews than a high profile game being decided by refereeing incompetence.

It was probably for their own good that they didn’t do interviews, as they’d probably be banned for bringing the game into disrepute.

Talking of outrage, the match report seemed to focus on so called outrage about a Social Media post by Jamie McGonigle. Social Media offence is ever the basis of a news story and when you look at the replies, nobody is actually “outraged”.

Talk about glossing over and missing the big issue.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland have since secured their place in the World Cup Play-Offs. They will play one of Croatia, Denmark, Italy or Switzerland. Avoid Italy, and you have a chance. Even if we do, it will still be a tough tie where we will be the underdogs.

People got giddy with the September rankings. Northern Ireland needed to win both October games to stand a chance of being seeded.

There was so much nonsense spouted last weekend, FIFA Rankings and UEFA Co-Efficients should be made a GCSE subject.

When you look at the ranking of 2nd place teams, it is tight between 3rd and 9th.

Ultimately, it all came down to last minute goals in June 2017. If Northern Ireland had drawn with Azerbaijan, they would have been the 9th place team and missed out.

If Scotland had beaten England, they would have finished 2nd and Republic Of Ireland would have been that 9th team.

If Republic Of Ireland had lost to Austria, they would have finished 3rd in their group.

If Sweden had drawn with France, they would have finished 3rd in their group.

It turns out, that was the pivotal matchday in the whole European Qualifiers.

In fact, Republic Of Ireland have England to thank twice. If Adam Lallana didn’t score his winner in Trnava on matchday 1, Slovakia would have got that Play-Off place ahead of Republic Of Ireland.

I presume all the Republic Of Ireland fans will be cheering on England in Russia next Summer as a thank you.

It just goes to show how small the margins are between success and failure.

As I said previously, all matchday 10 games should be played at the same time.

If they were, imagine being a Slovakia fan, watching your own team’s match, Slovenia v Scotland, hoping that Scotland fail to win, then Ukraine v Croatia and Wales v Republic Of Ireland hoping on of them ended a draw. That would have been fun.

This week, UEFA confirmed the divisions for the UEFA Nations League.

As expected, Northern Ireland will be in Section B, AKA The Championship. It is a bit of a farce that Holland can fail to qualify for two successive tournaments and be in Section A, AKA The Premier League.

Looking at Northern Ireland’s possible opponents, Wales away in November 2018, make a weekend of it in Bristol, see some Street Art and maybe even go to a Bristol Rovers match, or possibly a Bristol City match if they get relegated to League One for those goal gifs

Looking at the format, a team from Section D is guaranteed a place at Euro 2020. Azerbiajan, Belarus and Latvia have all been easily beaten by Northern Ireland in recent years. It is quite galling that Northern Ireland could lose out to one of them in Euro 2020.

I guarantee that whoever qualifies from Section D will lose all their matches at Euro 2020.

When you look at the rankings, Finland appear to have jumped into Section C with a drw against Croatia and a win over Turkey. They shouldn’t have bothered. They should have just lost both games and gambled on winning the Play-Offs.

If they did, that would have had ramifications regarding who qualified from Group I, further emphasising the farce of this competition.

If the UEFA Nations League is a farce, it certainly isn’t as big a farce as Coleraine’s winner.

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ULSTER 19-9 WASPS 13.10.2017

On Friday night, it was time for my annual one Rugby match a year, as I headed to Ravenhill to see Ulster take on Wasps.

I usually do one European group match a year, and this was the one that was most convenient for me. Last year, I didn’t actually go to any group matches as they were all on Saturday afternoons. Sorry, but football takes priority.

It was Friday 13th, and Belfast was treated to rain. That wasn’t bad luck, that was just usual Belfast weather.

There wasn’t quite the buzz (sorry) as Wasps flew into to town, with pockets of empty seats around the ground. It was a tough game for Ulster, but not Mission Impossible (again, sorry) despite the presence of Tom Cruse in the opposition line-up, as they aimed to be the Top Gun in the group.

The two sides had previously met in recent months, with Wasps winning a Pre-Season Friendly at Ravenhill in August.

Wasps took an early lead before Ulster responded as both sides exchange penalties, although there was a missed Ulster penalty sandwiched inbetween. Wasteful kicking by Ulster would be a theme throughout the game.

There wasn’t much excitement in the rest of the first-half. However, as it looked like both teams were going in at half-time level, Wasps got a penalty to make it 6-3.

An early penalty from Wasps looked set to take the game away from Ulster as their lead increase to 9-3, that was until a double burst of tries from Jacob Stockdale and Stuart McCloskey turned the game around and put Ulster in front for the first time.

However, the conversion was missed for both tries, meaning Ulster had a 13-9 lead when it could have been 17-9. Wasps were still in touch.

If Ulster fans were worried that those lost points would turn out to be costly, they shouldn’t have been, as Christian Lealiifano converted two penalties to give Ulster a 19-9 lead.

Wasps had one big attack which caused panic amongst the Ravenhill crowd, as they feared a try, but Ulster were able to defend it and ensure Wasps wouldn;t be adding any more points to the scoreboard.

As the minutes ticked away, it was becoming more obvious that this was going to be Ulster’s night, as the dream of glory in Bilbao next May remains intact.

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