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.