December will be a busy month. Thankfully, there won’t be a lot of travelling, with four Saturday games at Windsor Park this month. The first of those, saw Dungannon Swifts visit Windsor Park as Linfield aimed to win three League games in a row for the first time since the opening weeks of the season.
It is because of that statistic that every game is now must win, especially today, with the four teams above Linfield all having games you would expect them to win.
Unfortunately, i’ve only got 89 minutes of football to review, as I missed the opening minute. My reason? I was getting myself a Boxing Day ticket. It was Members and Season Ticket holders only today, and i’ll be having to get a few more next week.
It’s one of those milestone events in the year that indicates that Christmas is getting very close. There was a disappointing lack of “SANTA IS A BLUEMAN” hats at this game though.
I might have missed 1 minute, but Cameron Stewart would miss the whole 90. Injured, I presume. Disappointing for him, having scored the winner at Mourneview Park last weekend.
Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s first chance, when he was played in from a counter-attack, his first time shot going just wide.
A few minutes later, he controlled a Kirk Millar cross to swivel and shoot, his shot saved by Stuart Addis. Carrying on from his performance at Mourneview Park last weekend, he was in the mood, and wanted goals.
It wasn’t all one way traffic though, a Dungannon break seeing Roy Carroll make a save from a Ryan Harpur header.
A low cross fell perfectly to Jordan Stewart but he shot wide. If he hit the target, he would have scored.
Kirk Millar and Chris Casement were combining well down the right for Linfield, but they couldn’t assist a goal between them as Dungannon held out.
Andrew Waterworth was the next to miss when he headed over from a cross. He got too much power on it. A gentle touch would have put the ball in the net.
Despite their pressure, it was 0-0 at the break. Despite their missed chances, Linfield needed to step it up to get the three points.
The way the match seemed to be going the same way. It seemed to be similar to the Irish Cup Semi-Final against Dungannon last season, where they had to be patient to get the winner. The worst case scenario, was that it would be a repeat of the League match against Portadown in February. It had that vibe.
In short, Linfield needed a goal, and they needed it as soon as possible, and they needed to get it before Dungannon.
A scuffed effort from Andrew Waterworth was the best they could offer in the opening minutes, as Roy Carroll had to rush out to deny Dungannon taking the lead to smother the ball just as a shot was about to be unleashed.
David Healy turned to his bench. He had three attacking options to choose from – Ryan Strain, Louis Rooney and Ross Clarke. Surprisingly, he plumped for the teenager Ryan Strain ahead of Louis Rooney.
Just as surprisingly, it was Jordan Stewart who would be replaced. I thought it would have been Niall Quinn.
Stewart was playing well, but it was obvious he was needed out wide rather than through the middle. It was clear that Linfield needed another option through the middle.
Strain almost had an instant impact, when he fired goalwards from a low cross. Agonisingly, it went just wide. It is the sort of chance you see missed in the final minutes of a 0-0 draw. For Linfield, there was still time to win this.
Strain was at it again, controlling the ball from the sky like Dimitar Berbatov, before unleashing a shot that forced Addis into a save. Strain then had a long range shot go just over.
As well as his team-mates, Strain’s personal battle with Stuart Addis lifted the crowd, but still the goal eluded Linfield.
Do you remember my lucky scarf from last season? Well, it looks like I have an unlucky coat.
At the Coleraine match, I got a Linfield raincoat from the Club Shot for a fiver. It was a Nike one, so they were looking rid of it. With a bit of rain at lunchtime, it looked like a good opportunity to wear it.
For some reason, I took it off in the second-half. It was desperate times, maybe my coat was bringing bad luck? Within minutes, Linfield scored.
I think I might get rid of it. It’s yours for £6 if you want it.
Linfield took the lead when Andrew Waterworth headed home. That’s four in five League games for him now.
With Coleraine, Glenavon, Crusaders and Cliftonville all winning, Linfield had to do likewise just to keep up with them.
Despite that, Linfield needed a second. Ryan Strain was determined to get it, but he kept getting denied by Addis.
Roy Carroll was keen to emulate Addis saves by diving at his feet to deny Peter McMahon. When he was beaten by a long range shot, he was relieved to watch as the ball went narrowly over. This game was far from won for Linfield. Windsor Park was nervous.
Andrew Mitchell came on for Kirk Millar. The obvious sub if Millar was to be withdrawn was Ross Clarke . We don’t play well when we try to defend a lead.
Thankfully, Linfield were able to hold out and get the win. They had to, as the four teams above them all won.
Next week, Cliftonville face Glenavon while Linfield travel to Carrick. Crusaders and Coleraine face Bottom six opponents. There will be points dropped above us. We simply have to taken advantage. Even though the furthest we can jump will be up to 4th with a win, it’s a jump we must make. Small steps and all that.
I’m not sure of the exact rules, but I think today was the deadline if we wanted to bring the match against Crusaders forward ahead of the Coleraine away game. As there is no news yet, it looks like we’ll be playing Saturday-Monday over Christmas/New Year.
We still have to arrange a date for our home match against Glenavon. I’ve noticed that we are due to play Cliftonville away and Glenavon are at home to Crusaders on the weekend of the NIFL Cup Final. If it’s a Crusaders v Cliftonville Final, expect Linfield and Glenavon to make the most of their free weekend and face each other at Windsor Park. Expect some movement in that regard the week after next one way or the other.
Elsewhere, Paul Smyth was an unused sub for QPR today. Good to see him make progress so quick. Hopefully, a start and a hat-trick against Leeds next weekend.
From Linfield’s past to Linfield’s future, and the signing of Kurtis Byrne from St Patrick’s Athletic was announced this week, effective when the January window opens.
I don’t really know much about him, but his Wikiepedia stats suggest he has scored a respectable return in struggling sides the last two seasons. It actually dawned on me that I have seen him play in the flesh. He scored and his team won 5-1. That’s the benchmark that has been set and i’ll be expecting it every week.
Talking of League Of Ireland, the 2018 fixtures will be released on 19th December. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, to fit a game around my annual short break to Dublin. I’m eyeing up Friday 13th July 2018 when i’ll already be off work.
Crewe play Blackburn in the FA Cup tomorrow, so i’m hoping for a draw as i’ll be in Manchester the week of the Replays. Failing that, Rochdale to draw away to Slough on Monday would be nice.
Due to spending most of the pre-match queuing to get a Boxing Day ticket, I didn’t get a chance to get the updated version of Every Other Saturday. I may wait until the Crusaders match on 30th December before purchasing, just in case Santa gets it for me.
If I get it, I could read it at half-time at the Steel and Sons Cup Final if I go. Still undecided on that one, or maybe at The Oval the following day. Not even joking, I saw someone in reading a novel at the League match in February this year, the match was that bad.
And finally, Brazil, Costa Rica and Serbia. That’s a tough group. Our opening match against Brazil is nice symmetry as they were our last opponents at Mexico 86.
Sorry. Sorry. I’m still in denial about that one.