The last time Coleraine visited Windsor Park was for the Irish Cup Final in May. Saturday wasn’t a cup final, thought it might have felt like it. There wouldn’t be a trophy presented today, but defeat would surely have seen the League trophy slip away from Linfield’s hands.
Linfield were Back In Blue after a Highway To Hell which brought two away defeats which left them Thunderstruck.
Last week’s defeat at Ballymena was a missed opportunity for Linfield with Coleraine, Glenavon and Crusaders all inactive in the League. Coleraine kicked-off eleven points clear of Linfield. Victory would put them fourteen clear of Linfield. Even at this relatively early stage, that would be too much.
Victory for Linfield cuts the gap to eight points. Tough, but doable.
October and November have been rotten months for Linfield in the last few years. 2017 was no different, as Linfield have suffered seven defeats in the last ten games.
It’s been a perfect storm. Bad finishing, bad defending, bad luck, bad decision making (by officials and Linfield players). Sometimes, it’s been all four in the same game.
Coleraine made a good start in the opening minutes, having a lot of the ball in Linfield’s half, even though they didn’t really do a lot with it.
Linfield then had their own moments on top, making more of the ball when they had it. Chris Casement had a free-kick tipped over while Mark Stafford heading wide.
Jordan Stewart was Linfield’s main threat, getting into good positions but failing with the final ball.
Cameron Stewart was troubling Coleraine’s defence by just being a general nuisance.
Andrew Waterworth broke into Coleraine’s penalty area and was fouled. Penalty to Linfield. Finally, a break. Well, so we thought, we’d probably miss.
Thankfully not, as Andrew Waterworth slotted the ball home to put Linfield 1-0 up.
Coleraine were now nervous in defence. Linfield were almsot getting in behind them. A poor pass or a lucky leg stuck out saving Coleraine. It was going to be a matter of time before Linfield got it right. They had to. They simply had to take advantage while they were playing well.
A quick free-kick saw Niall Quinn get in behind Coleraine’s defence, and cross for Mark Stafford to run in and head home from close range. It was similar to Ivan Perisic’s goal for Croatia against Greece in the World Cup Play-Offs recently. For Linfield fans, it was just as vital.
On Wednesday night, it didn’t look like Stafford would be playing in this match. We’ll get to that later.
Linfield needed a third goal while they were on top. They couldn’t get it. They had to make do with just the two goals.
In the final minute of the first-half, Coleraine had their only real chance of the first-half when Jamie McGonigle was played through on goal.
Just like when he ran through on goal in the last minute of the meeting between the sides last month, Roy Carroll saved his effort. This time, it went out for a corner. It was definitely over the line. No dispute this time. No cost to Linfield this time.
The opening fifteen minutes of the second-half would be massive. If Coleraine could get a goal, they would fancy their chances of getting something from this game.
Coleraine had a lot of the ball and a lot of pressure, but Linfield held firm. However, if the pressure continued, it would only be a matter of time before Coleraine scored.
Linfield’s rare forays into Coleraine’s half saw them lose possession quickly. They couldn’t even win a corner.
Linfield couldn’t get to the hour with a clean sheet. Just before that milestone, a well worked move saw Darren McCAuley fire home for Coleraine. It was game on.
You felt like it was now going to be a case of Goal The Winner. 3-1 would secure the game for Linfield. 2-2, and it would be hard to see Coleraine not winning.
David Healy responed by bringing on Kirk Millar and Aaron Burns.
Millar played well, holding on to the ball when he had it, and always making himself an option when another Linfield player had it.
Niall Quinn got into a good position but just headed wide from a cross. The final minutes were unsurprisingly nervous. Coleraine had a header just wide. It looked like a goal from where I was sat at the other end.
When you’re on a run as bad as Linfield, you always expect the worst. Adam Mullan had a header saved by Roy Carroll. It just hit him. The luck was now all with Linfield.
Deep into injury time, a Coleraine corner was headed goalward. I was at the other end, and couldn’t see what happened, with so many players in the crowded penalty area.
I knew there two things I couldn’t see. The netting moving, and Coleraine players celebrating. I knew it was ok. The final whistle blew immediately and Linfield had the win.
Linfield players got the blocks when it mattered. In recent weeks, it was opposition players who were doing that. Linfield scored when they were in top. In recent weeks, it was the opposition scoring when they were on top.
It is only one win, but every success begins with one win.
It was also a first win of the season against a top half team of note. Sorry, Glentoran.
It is worth pointing out, that this time last year, Linfield had won only one of eight matches against Coleraine, Glenavon, Crusaders and Cliftonville. They remedied that in spectacular style in the second-half of the season.
It makes the defeat against Ballymena even worse, as the gap would only be five points and things would be very interesting indeed. No point crying about it, the Ballymena game is gone. The title, is not.
Next up, is a trip to Mourneview Park on Friday night. Friday night isn’t ideal, especially when there is a Record Fair in Lurgan that could have made next Saturday a double trip, but we might as well make the most of it and get the three points to cut the gap on Glenavon and put pressure on Coleraine and Crusaders, who play each other.
There will be points dropped above us next weekend, we simply have to take advantage.
Without sounding arrogant, there are a run of games against bottom half teams in December, which represents an opportunity to get a winning run of form ahead of Cliftonville, Glentoran, Crusaders and Coleraine in succession over Christmas/New Year.
If we can kick on from this, it would make the early months of 2018 very interesting indeed.
Since I last wrote, Northern Ireland have been eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Switzerland.
Two days later, Republic of Ireland went out after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Denmark.
Predictably, Wednesday’s media was covering “Calls” for a combined football team.
“Calls”. Anybody can call for anything, that doesn’t make it newsworthy. Look at who is calling for it. Politicians and Journalists. That tells you all you need it to know. There are no calls, no demands, just people using their influence or “Fame” to pursue an agenda through the media.
Why were there no calls at 7.49pm on Tuesday night?
Let’s address this “Issue”.
The famed Ireland Rugby team gets mentioned in this type of nonsense. “Why don’t we have one team like in Rugby?” they cry.
Surely if this was going to be happen, would people not want them to be successful and decent, unlike the Rugby team.
But yes, if we’re using the Rugby model, why not have a Britain and Ireland football team? You know, like the Lions?
What’s that? I’m using sport to push a political agenda and deny people the chance to see their national team compete in international competition? Sorry about that.
When you see Lithuania, Latvia, Armenia and Ukraine fail to Qualify, wouldn’t it be amazing if all the former Soviet states formed a combined team with Russia?
What’s that? Trying to have countries that no longer exist compete in international football is just silly. Sorry about that.
I guess your idea is brilliant and mine are stupid. Fair enough.
The big mistake people who support this idea make, is that they think Northern Ireland fans have to justify their team’s existence. We don’t. We have never had to, and we will never have to.
It is up to those who want this to happen to convince us that it should happen.
Nobody has made a suggestion that is even remotely acceptable to us. Not even close.
First question, what would this team be called? It sounds simple, but what would it be called. You can’t call it “Ireland” as that is the brand name the FAI use for their representative team, and that would not be acceptable for Northern Ireland fans.
Who would be their sponsors? Neither Vauxhall or 3 would accept anything less than prominent position on training gear.
Who would be their kit supplier? Both teams have different contracts that would have to be cancelled and a new one negotiated?
Who is the manager? Who is the coaching, support and admin staff? You can’t have two sets. Somebody will miss out.
Where will they be in the FIFA Rankings? As a new team, they would have to start on 0 and be in Pot 6 for qualifying competitions. Being in Pot 6 will make qualifying for tournaments very difficult.
Where would they play their home matches? Northern Ireland fans would not accept feeding off scraps of home games against teams seeded five and six.
So, we have a team in Pot 6 with no staff and sponsors. This doesn’t sound very appealing.
I wish there was some sort of recent political event where people demanded something without taking into account the consequences.
To quote the great political thinker Joe Quimby, are they getting louder or stupider?
Tuesday’s result was not a shock. Republic of Ireland rarely win big games at home. Germany and Bosnia were exceptions.
In the past 16 years, Russia x 2, Switzerland x 2, France x 2, Israel, Germany x 2, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Monetnegro, Slovakia, Sweden, Austria x 2, Scotland, Poland, Wales, Serbia and Denmark have come home from competitive games in Dublin unbeaten.
Northern Ireland have had some awful results, but we haven’t conceded five in a competitive match at Windsor Park since 1979. Republic of Ireland have done it twice in the last five years.
Perhaps they should look at their own failings rather than trying to use us to deflect attention away from them.
I’m quite confident that I speak on behalf of Northern Ireland fans by politely declining the offer.
We can address it again when journalists report on “Calls” for this when Republic of Ireland get eliminated from Euro 2020.
This week, saw France confirmed as hosts of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Very tempted to do a football/rugby trip. Nice is a host city. A return visit sounds very tempting. It’s still six years away so there is no rush.
And now, Mark Stafford’s red card on Wednesday. A red card for being fouled. I’m surprised a goal for Coleraine wasn’t awarded when he scored today.
It cost us the game. We had most of the possession in the second-half. Most of the possession, against ten men, attacking our own fans. I’m fancying our chances here.
That’s two games in the past month that we have been cost due to refereeing incompetence.
The referee bottled it in the face of an angry mob of Crusaders players. We need to start standing up for ourselves on the pitch. We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be outsmarted by stupid teams.
It’s not just Linfield who have suffered in the face of incompetent refereeing. Just ask Warrenpoint Town fans about the last day of the 2015-2016 season.
So, up next for Linfield is a trip to Mourneview Park. Linfield at Mourneview Park in November is usually interesting.
I’ll happily take a boring 1-0 win in 2017.