With Coleraine and Crusaders going head to head, Linfield and Glenavon faced each other at Windsor Park knowing that a win could give them the opportunity to keep their faltering title challenges just about alive.
It was Linfield who made the perfect start to the game. Kurtis Byrne looked like he was going to get in behind Glenavon’s defence but was denied by an interception. It would only be a temporary reprieved for Glenavon as the resulting corner was punched away by Jonathan Tuffey, only as far as Byrne, who returned the ball into the box, and it went straight back into the back of the net.
It looked like a speculative effort rather than a shot, but it didn’t matter, Linfield were 1-0 up. It also meant goals in successive games for Byrne. It was the third game I had seen Byrne play in, and the third time I had seen him score. In the two previous games, the team he was playing for went on and won. So, time to put the feet up then.
Well, not quite. Glenavon responded, and were level after six minutes whenever Simon Kelly headed home from a corner. Linfield players were appealing for a foul on Roy Carroll. They can ask questions about a foul all they want, but questions have to asked of them as to why Carroll wasn’t protected by them, and why he was allowed to head the ball unchallenged.
All the good work of the opening minute was undone, and we were back to square one.
Roy Carroll was injured in that incident. What is it with Linfield Goalkeepers and Glenavon?
Mark Haughey must have been stood there thinking to himself “Oh for fuck sake, not again”.
You’ve guessed it, no sub keeper on the bench again. Why do we leave ourselves vulnerable like this? Especially when Roy Carroll has had various injury scares during matches this season. We’re allowed to have five substitutes, we should be utilising all of those to make sure all areas of the pitch are covered.
Thankfully, Carroll was able to continue, and was protected by his defence, although Josh Robinson gave him a dodgy backpass when passing to Mark Haughey was the glaringly obvious option.
If Carroll was being (mostly) protected, Jonathan Tuffey was untroubled at the other end due to a combination of poor passing and poor set pieces, the most bizarre of which was one to Jimmy Callacher in the Left Midfield position which went out for a throw.
Linfield finished the first-half strongly but couldn’t get back in front.
Elsewhere, Crusaders were 2-0 up away to Coleraine. Due to the amount of injury time at the end of the first-half, Linfield v Glenavon would be kicking off a bit later than the other games.
By the time the teams re-entered the pitch for the second-half, Coleraine would have already pulled their game back to 2-1. Linfield were hoping to get an early second-half goal as well. However, that is what Glenavon would do.
A cross came in from the right which was bundled home by Andrew Mitchell, the Glenavon one rather than the Linfield one, who was on the bench.
I was at the other end and was wondering what on earth happened. It got worse when you saw the TV replays, as Josh Robinson set him up by standing on the ball.
Have we conceded a decent goal all season? Every goal we’ve conceded this season has been farcical. If we bring out a Season Review DVD, it should be presented by Danny Baker.
One that goal went in, there was a grim inevitability about where the three points would be going.
There was no direct response from Linfield, or even a delayed response. Once it went to 2-1, there was never a period in the game when Glenavon had their backs to the wall. There was never a moment when you thought that a Linfield goal was only seconds away.
Andrew Waterworth came off the bench for Ryan Strain. Strain was hobbling at the time, but it was a substitution that needed to be made, injury or no injury.
In fact, it was Glenavon who were more likely to score the next goal, Stephen Murray being denied by Roy Carroll when put through on goal.
Glenavon’s likliness to score was aided by more shoddy defending from Linfield. They’re simply not doing the basics right. You can’t blame disruption or unfamiliarity when you consider it was three of last season’s back four, the only change being a player who has won two Irish League medals in the previous three seasons, and spent last season playing professionally in England.
They weren’t even clearing the ball properly, inviting more attacks onto them when they should be starting the attacks for Linfield.
Jordan Stewart and Stephen Fallon were introduced from the bench for Kurtis Byrne and Robert Garrett. Achille Campion rather than Kurtis Byrne looked the more obvious player to leave the pitch as Byrne had the more goal threat of the two.
With ten minute to go, Glenavon made it 3-1 with yet another farcical goal from a Linfield point of view, as Josh Robinson fell over having been beaten on the touchline, giving Stephen Murray the space to cross for Marc Griffin to score.
You don’t want to single players out, but that’s two goals where Josh Robinson’s contribution was questionable. It wasn’t just the Glenavon goals where his contribution was questionable. His passes usually went astray. He wasn’t the only one in a blue shirt.
The three points were now heading to Lurgan, and nobody could say they didn’t deserve it.
In fact, Glenavon were still the most likely team to score at 3-1 just as it was at 2-1, with Roy Carroll having to save from a Bobby Burns volley.
Glenavon were showing the type of attacking urgency and creativity that Linfield were so badly lacking.
Those who stayed until the end had to endure five minutes of stoppage time, we not quite bad enough yet for officials to take pity of us and only play one or two minutes.
As the clock hit ninety-five minutes, Andrew Waterworth made it 3-2 to muted celebrations in the stands and on the pitch. Nobody believed that it was going to be the start of a comeback, even allowing for Glenavon’s reputation for silliness in recent seasons.
This result was made even worse by the score from Coleraine, where Coleraine and Crusaders drew 3-3. If Linfield had won, they would have been level on points with Glenavon. More importantly, we would have known that winning our games in hand would have put us only nine points off the top, the margin we came back from in February last year. It could have given us that glimmer of hope for the rest of the season.
Even worse, we’re now 5th behind Cliftonville, who are awful, backed up by a record of eight points in twelve matches against Top Six opponents. That’s embarrassing. Our record, if you care, is a slightly better but still awful twelve points from eleven matches. Even more embarrassing, is the fact we have lost the same amount of matches as Glentoran. That is not the company we want to be keeping in the table.
Glenavon fans and players know that if they win their games in hand, they are only six points off the top and have to play the top two twice, and have a decent goal difference that can be overturned in their favour in the run-in. They’re fancying this. They’re not out of the title race.
If we’ve given up on the title prior to this game, that is unforgivable.
It’s pretty damming that Coleraine have won only one of their last four matches, and still extended their lead over us in that time.
You can cut and paste from any game over the past two months. Even worse when you see a recurring theme of throwing away leads. Eleven points thrown away from winning positions in the last five weeks. We’d be looking to win our games in hand to go joint top with those points.
The last two home League matches, early leads not built on. Last season, we had goal flurrys and killed off opponents before they had a chance to get their bearings.
Add in the Ballymena game in November, there’s nine points thrown away from being 1-0 up inside the first ten minutes.
It’s clear we are missing Jamie Mulgrew and Paul Smyth, but there is no point having them on the pitch when defenders are not marking opponents, standing on the ball or falling over.
There are also problems at the other end of the field as well due to a lack of creativity. It’s a strange thing to say about a team that has scored in every League match this season. The problem is, we are having to score a lot of goals in order to win matches. That shouldn’t be the case.
We may be missing Mulgrew and Smyth, but we made signings in the summer designed to have a squad to cater for injuries and suspensions. Players aren’t coming in and stepping up when they come into the team.
Mark Haughey, Sean Ward and Ross Gaynor stepped up and had to change position during that infamous game at Mourneview Park in November 2016. Cameron Stewart stepped up when Aaron Burns and Paul Smyth were injured. Chris Casement stepped up when Mark Stafford was injured during the run-in. Alex Moore and Gareth Deane stepped up when Roy Carroll was unavailable.
There are very few examples this season of a player coming into the team and making the place their own.
Up next, are trips to Ballymena and Coleraine, weather permitting.
That Coleraine match is on Tuesday week. Never mind the bad results on the pitch, this has been a crap season for away trips with ten (Ards, Crusaders, Warrenpoint, Ballymena, Glenavon, Carrick Coleraine, Warrenpoint, Cliftonville and Ballinamallard) taking place on a weeknight. We’ll come to the last three of those later on.
This week, saw the second postponement of the NIFL Cup Semi-Finals. This has a knock-on effect for Linfield as we are scheduled to be away to Cliftonville on the weekend the Final is scheduled for.
If Cliftonville do win their Semi-Final, that match will need to be rescheduled for a later date.
Glenavon are scheduled to be away to Crusaders that weekend, but they will be inactive in League terms regardless of the Dungannon v Crusaders result as Crusaders are scheduled to be away to Inverness in the Scottish Challenge Cup.
Yep, you read that right.
The NIFL Cup Final is scheduled on the same weekend as the Scottish Cup Challenge Semi-Finals. There were two clubs who could have been affected by this, and we’re 90 minutes away from a shitstorm.
Crusaders fans who have booked travel and accommodation will have every right to be fuming if their game against Inverness is postponed.
If it was postponed because of the weather, that would be unfortunate, it’s an occupational hazard of being a football fan. Matches being postponed due to scheduling incompetence is another matter.
I’ve been highlighting this a lot this season. There’s a potential shitstorm brewing. Watch this space.
The other Semi-Final between Ballymena and Cliftonville is scheduled for 6th February, meaning that Linfield’s trip to Solitude will only be confirmed ten days before the match. You’d like to think provisional plans are being put in place for ticketing for a 16th February game.
If it is Cliftonville who reach the Final, hopefully, we can make the most of a free weekend by bringing forward our rearranged home match against Glenavon.
Last week, Linfield should have been away to Warrenpoint, a match that was postponed at 1.30pm for a 3pm kick-off. I’ve no issue with the match being postponed, but it was the way it was postponed.
Nobody wants to see matches postponed, and you don’t want to postpone a match too early, but is clear from the tone of the Tweets on Warrenpoint’s Twitter page that the match was unlikely to go ahead.
Sitting in Applegreen refreshing Twitter in order to find out if a match is on isn’t acceptable, and I wasn’t the only one there doing that. On the plus side, my lunch was nice.
We all have our different matchday arrangements and I was lucky that I could turn around at Lisburn. Others would have been further ahead. Having a postponement so late simply isn’t good enough.
The away trip to Ballinamallard in March has been brought forward to the Friday night. Even though there is two and a half months notice, this isn’t good enough, and for different reasons.
The reason for this is because Northern Ireland have arranged a home friendly against South Korea on Saturday 24th March at 2pm. I’ve no issue with this friendly, i’m actually looking forward to it. My issue with, is that domestic football has been shunted to accommodate it.
It is shabby, rude and disrespectful to the clubs. The worst part was, the rearrangements weren’t part of the announcement of the game, but made a few hours later.
I get why this game is a 2pm kick-off, for South Korean TV, but were clubs given an option when to play their match.
Some clubs might have preferred to play a Saturday evening game to allow fans the opportunity to go to two matches in one day. Some clubs might have preferred to play on Sunday afternoon.
We’re always getting told about how clubs have to be innovative with matchday arrangements, but here we are going with the same old Friday night.
Or even better, could Northern Ireland not have played on the Sunday afternoon instead?
Talking of Northern Ireland, this Wednesday will see the draw for the UEFA Nations League, and Northern Ireland will play one of Austria, Wales, Russia or Slovakia and then one of Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland.
Anyone but Republic of Ireland please. Wales away on a Monday or Tuesday in October would be great.
Meanwhile, North Korea and South Korea are sending a joint team to the Winter Olympics. Just watch the “WE NEED ONE TEAM!!!” brigade suddenly becoming experts in Winter Sports. Keep dreaming, it ain’t happening.
On Monday night previously, Linfield had a behind closed door 6-3 friendly win over Sligo Rovers at The Dub. I wouldn’t have minded going as it is a ground i’ve never seen a match at. Even when we get a convincing win, we manage to concede 3 goals.
On Saturday morning, I did a tour of Windsor Park, which was nice, getting to see behind the scenes. It was announced this week that Windsor Park will bid to host the European Super Cup Final in 2020.
It would be amazing if this happened.
There is one slight problem. Part of the criteria is for stadiums to be smoke free. It will be a right laugh when Bid Inspectors visit Windsor Park and see a dedicated and signposted smoking area.
When the stadium was being designed, someone looked at the plans and thought “You know what, we’re not really catering for smokers here”. Seriously, fucking hell.
If we miss out again, we know who we can blame. If it doesn’t win, I hope Nice wins. Give me an excuse to go back. Loved the city when I visited for Euro 2016. Will be roasting in early August though.
The bad news for Kurtis Byrne is that I won’t be going to the Linfield match next weekend as i’m in London for a short break. I’ll be hoping to take in a game on the Saturday when i’m there. The choices are : Millwall v Rochdale, Brentford v Norwich City, Bormley v Halifax and Leyton Orient v Aldershot Town.
I’m leaning towards the Millwall match as it is only £15.
I’ll end with some good news. When I went to see United take on Bournemouth, my flight home was delayed by three hours. The compensation I got meant that the trip was essentially a freebie.
It would be nice if Linfield could stop giving out freebies.