Last week, Linfield did Glenavon a favour by beating Coleraine, enabling them to cut the lead at the top of the table to two points. On Friday night, they did Coleraine a favour by beating Glenavon and giving them the opportunity to increase their lead to eight points, having beaten Ards in midweek. Crusaders wouldn’t have been too unhappy to see Coleraine and Glenavon lose games.
Linfield weren’t interested in helping Coleraine, Glenavon or Crusaders, they were only interested in helping themselves. They certainly did that over a six day period.
This is the run of games when teams are playing each other twice, but Linfield and Glenavon were only meeting for the first time, with their scheduled meeting in October being postponed due to Linfield’s involvement in the Scottish Challenge Cup.
That outstanding game has yet to be rearranged. There were games the previous midweek, but two teams playing each other on Tuesday and Friday was never going to happen. The next logical available date would be in January, but with a scheduled meeting on 20th January, the two sides could potentially be having a double helping of meetings in the new year. Just hope they avoid each other in the Irish Cup.
As mentioned last week’s, Linfield’s visits to Mourneview Park in recent years have been silly, great for the neutral, not so much if you support one of the two teams, so this promised to be an entertaining game, especially as these were the only two teams in the League to have scored in every League game so far this season.
It was Glenavon who had most of the ball in the opening minutes. They were up for it. They want to win this game early.
Despite Glenavon’s possession, Linfield were comfortable. Glenavon didn’t have a clear chance. They were having too much of the ball for Linfield to be too comfortable.
The first real chance of the game fell for Linfield, when Andrew Waterworth burst down the right wing and crossed for Cameron Stewart, who got the ball caught between his legs and scuffed the opportunity. He really should have scored. You had the feeling that if the roles were reversed and Andrew Waterworth was on the end of the cross, Linfield would have been 1-0 up.
A few minutes later, another Linfield breaks saw Linfield win a corner. As the corner was about to be taken, someone near me shouted “COME ON STEWART!!!”. I’m guessing that was aimed at Cameron rather than Jordan.
He might have known something was about to happen, a believer in the unwritten football rule that if a player misses an easy opportunity to score, they will score a harder opportunity a few minutes later.
And so it proved, as Cameron Stewart headed home to put Linfield 1-0 up.
Glenavon complained about it, claiming there was a push by Stewart. There was physical contact, but a foul? Seriously? The Glenavon defender should have been stronger. If Linfield conceded that goal, i’d be asking questions about our defence. Glenavon also had an opportunity to clear the ball before it came to Stewart.
After the game, Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton complained about “Pressure” being put on the referee by Linfield recently. After being eliminated from one competition and potentially losing the League in the space of four weeks due to gross incompetence, I think Linfield are entitled to ask questions about the standard of officiating, just as Glenavon did over a referee’s performance in two games at Mourneview Park between October and November 2014.
It seems as though some people have short memories.
All that Glenavon could offer in response was a low shot that was easily saved by Roy Carroll.
Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s next chance when he broke through but his shot was saved by Jonathan Tuffey.
Glenavon might have had most of the ball, but Linfield were making the most of it when they had it, and looked the more dangerous side when attacking.
As the half neared it’s end, Linfield had another break, an advantage played despite two fouls saw a Niall Quinn cross only be cleared as far as Stephen Lowry, who fired home from close range.
Or so he thought, as the goal was disallowed for handball.
I didn’t get a clear view of it, and TV pictures were inconclusive. Linfield could have done with a second.
They could have had it in the opening minute, when Jordan Stewart got space in Glenavon’s box to shoot, only to see his shot saved, and Niall Quinn unable to head home the rebound.
Linfield were putting pressure on Glenavon’s goal in the opening minutes of the second-half. You would have thought they were the team that was 1-0 down and had just been given a dressing down at half-time.
Unable to get a second that would surely have clinched the points, they were almost pegged back when Sammy Clingan fired from outside the box.
I was behind the goal at the other end, and it looked like it was going in. It looked like it was unsavable, but Roy Carroll got a hand on it and saved it.
Aaron Burns came on for Cameron Stewart and linked up well with Andrew Waterworth. Waterworth was winning the personal battle against his defender throughout the second-half, constantly getting in behind Glenavon’s defence.
Unfortunately, the shot or the final pass was just short. It was clear he is still suffering from missing pre-season through injury. The fitness will come. If this match was four or five weeks time, he probably would have had a hat-trick. Despite that, Glenavon’s defence was terrified every time the ball went near him.
Having been sent-off at Mourneview Park last November, Roy Carroll was once again in trouble with the referee, getting a yellow card as he took a goal kick. Literally, as he took a goal kick. The referee declared that he was timewasting.
Now that referees are cracking down on this, I look forward to opposition goalkeepers being booked against Linfield in the coming weeks, especially at Windsor Park.
Carroll was targeted at set pieces by Glenavon and was offered no protection by the referee when he was blocked off. Luckily, Linfield’s defenders were there to save the day.
Linfield’s players were getting into the Black Friday spirit by scrapping for and holding onto three points as if it was a discounted TV.
Aaron Burns appearance off the bench was brief, as he was stretchered off after a challenge. He was replaced by Louis Rooney.
He, or any of the none other outfield players couldn’t get that second goal. Niall Quinn headed agonisingly wide in stoppage time. I was right behind it and could see it going wide from the moment it hit his head. Everyone around me knew that the three points were still not secure, even though the 90 minute mark was approaching.
Glenavon had one late chance, that went just wide. four minutes and fifty seconds into five minutes of injury time, Glenavon were not going to get another chance, and so it proved, as the final whistle blew and Linfield had the three points.
I said last week that i’d take a boring 1-0 win. It was a 1-0 win, but it wasn’t boring.
In the end, it was a deserved win for Linfield. A week previously, Linfield hadn’t beaten a team higher than 6th, now they had beaten the top two, and deserved to do so on each occasion.
As well as cutting the gap at the top of the table, Linfield fans left Mourneview Park knowing one of Saturday’s results would go in their favour, as Crusaders would travel to Coleraine.
There would be no bad result for Linfield. A Coleraine win would have put Crusaders closer to Linfield. A Crusaders win would have put Coleraine to closer to Linfield. It ended up a draw, and Linfield are two points closer to both of them. Cliftonville beat Ballymena to stay a point ahead of Linfield, but Linfield have a game in hand.
It might look like Cliftonville are on a good run of form, but it’s deceptive. They’ve had a run of games against sides in the bottom half. I’m not to concerned about being below them hit as they’ll hit a brick wall in December when they have a run of games against sides in the top half.
The gap now to leaders Coleraine is nine points, but Linfield have a game in hand. Until the gap gets shorter, i’m going to continue to lament those ten minutes of madness at Ballymena a few weeks back.
Without sounding arrogant, the fixture list is kind to Linfield, with Dungannon, Carrick and Warrenpoint coming up next.
If Linfield have ambitions of winning the League, that has to bring a return of nine points. If it does, we are looking at a five game winning run going into the Christmas/New Year fixtures. A perfect time to go on a winning run, not that there is a bad time to do so.
Next Saturday, should see wins for Coleraine, Crusaders, Glenavon and Cliftonville. The two weeks after that will be of interest, as Glenavon will face Cliftonville and Crusaders.
There will be points dropped above us in the coming weeks, we simply have to take advantage.
Linfield have taken a lot of deserved criticism for their record in big games this season. This month, Coleraine have failed to beat Glenavon, Linfield and Crusaders, and have led in two of those games, one of which was against ten men.
It will be interesting to see if Coleraine’s title credentials come under the same amount of scrutiny as Linfield’s.
Up next of interest to Linfield fans is the Steel and Sons Cup Semi-Final against Immaculata, the winners will play Newington. I know, we’ll all be trying to decide if it’s worth getting up early on Christmas Day. At least last year, it was on Christmas Eve.
Of those Christmas/New Year games alluded to, the game away to Coleraine has been brought forward from Tuesday 2nd January to Monday 1st January.
It’s not that surprising. It stood out when the fixture list was made. It is fair to say that the decision could have been made earlier for those making arrangements.
Hopefully, the club will bring forward the match against Crusaders to Friday 29th, to give the players extra recovery time. It’s our home game, so we can make the call. We have until the end of the week to make the call.
Playing Tuesday-Friday-Monday isn’t ideal, but it’s slightly better than Tuesday-Saturday-Monday.
Next weekend, i’ll be looking at draws. I’ll be hoping that Crewe draw with Blackburn in the FA Cup so that the Replay will be the midweek when i’m in Manchester. Might be tempted to go along.
Next Friday, is the World Cup draw. If Switzerland end up in a group with Russia, Iran and Panama, I might just cry.
Hopefully, Linfield beating Dungannon at Windsor Park the following day will cheer me up.