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.