It was the same opponents, scoreline and venue as when Linfield kicked off their domestic season in August. The mood was very much different. A second successive title is long gone, but qualification for European football next season remains open on two fronts.
It was a Linfield team that had four changes, with Alex Moore, Robert Garrett, Mark Haughey and Stephen Fallon all coming in to the Starting eleven. It’s unsure if it was a response to the last game against Glenavon, or if Linfield had one eye on the next match against Cliftonville in the Irish Cup on Tuesday.
For the teenager Alex Moore, it was a second appearance, having played against Glentoran in February 2017. Curiously, that was Linfield’s last game before an Irish Cup Quarter-Final, if you believe in omens.
He did what he had to do. That is the only assessment of his performance. He didn’t have much to do. Not even joking, I could have played in goal for Linfield today and kept a clean sheet.
The game began with a flurry of Linfield chances, as Robert Garrett, Jamie Mulgrew and Niall Quinn all had attemps on goal saved by Carrick keeper Harry Doherty. It was Attack v Defence, with the only way that Carrick could stop Linfield was by cynical fouls.
It looked like being a matter of time until Linfield scored, but Carrick were able to ride out the storm as Linfield struggled to keep up the pressure on the Carrick.
Linfield were looking the most likely to score without actually looking like scoring.
Linfield weren’t helped by the loss of Andrew Waterworth to injury midway through the first-half, having had to receive treatment a few minutes earlier. The one positive was, that he wasn’t hobbling off, so hopefully it was just a precaution ahead of Tuesday night’s Irish Cup tie against Cliftonville.
Not that Carrick could relax with Waterworth not on the pitch, as Ryan Strain entered the field. It was Strain who came off the bench to provide the cross for Kurtis Byrne’s winning goal when the sides met at Taylor’s Avenue in January.
Carrick had a header easily saved by Alex Moore, before Jimmy Callacher went close with a header in first-half injury time, as Linfield had to make do with a 0-0 scoreline at half-time
In the early minutes of the second-half, Gavin Taggart was lucky not to be sent-off for high feet in a challenge with Jamie Mulgrew. Taggart was substituted soon afterwards.
Also substituted was Achille Campion, who couldn’t mark his birthday with a goal. The closest he had was when he was played in when he was in a position similar to Marcus Rashford for his first goal against Liverpool earlier in the day. Unfortunately, he was unable to cut inside and finish like Marcus Rashford. He was replaced by Kurtis Byrne.
It was Linfield’s other substitute Ryan Strain, who thought he was going to break the deadlock when he created space for himself in the box, but he fired just wide.
On 65 minutes, Linfield got the breakthrough when Mark Stafford headed home from a free-kick. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that is was Stafford who opened this scoring, having scored in three of Carrick’s last four visits to Windsor Park.
With Mark Haughey always scoring against Warrenpoint Town, the two Marks will be keeping an eye on the battle to avoid relegation as their goal tally next season could be severely reduced.
The first thing that came to mind when Stafford scored was a match against Distillery in March 2013 (the fifth anniversary of that match was the day before this one) when Linfield struggled in the rain and eventually took the lead, only to be pegged back to 1-1 immediately. This match had similarities.
With only one goal in the previous eight League games against Linfield since promotion in 2015, there was no form to suggest that Carrick looked like scoring. Never mind stats on paper, the way the match was going, Carrick never looked like scoring.
Any such fears were quickly dispelled when Jamie Mulgrew ran with the ball and finished from outside the box. That was the three points secured.
Mark Stafford had a header well saved and Kurtis Byrne fired just wide as Linfield looked to make it 3-0. 2-0 was enough.
This was the first of three home games in seven days for Linfield, and a timely win for Linfield, their first home win since February 3rd.
Having not been to any of the two home Irish Cup ties this season, it meant that this was Linfield’s first home League win since December 23rd. 2017. Yes, you read that right, Linfield’s first home League win of 2018.
It was a win that breathed some life into Linfield’s League campaign.
Unfortunateley, the goal now is about finishing 3rd. After defeat to Glenavon in their last League outing, that looked a long shot, being six points behind them and having played a game more.
Since then, Glenavon have crashed out of the Irish Cup, lost their game in hand and drew today.
They are now only four points clear and the two sides still have to meet before the season ends. Suddenly, 3rd place is a realistic target for Linfield, one that will secure European football if there is a Coleraine v Linfield Irish Cup Final.
I’m not sure how, but Linfield appear to have somehow put the jinx on Glenavon’s season. Long may it continue.
Reaching the Irish Cup Final, nevermind choosing the opponents, is still a long long way away.
Elsewhere, Linfield remain six points clear of Cliftonville, albeit with a game more played.
That was because Cliftonville beat Crusaders 3-1. I’m not sure how, but Cliftonville have suddenly started showing some balls whenever they play Crusaders. It would be nice if Linfield did likewise when they played Crusaders, like we did so effectively last season.
Of more immediate importance, is that we do so when we play Cliftonville in the Irish Cup Quarter-Final on Tuesday. If we do that, i’d expect us to get the job done, as we have done in the last two meetings.
Curiously, it will be the second successive year we will have played Cliftonville on March 13th. A repeat of the 2-0 win on that date last year will be very welcome.
Also welcome was the news that Ross Clarke scored a hat-trick for Ards against Ballinamallard. Hopefully, his loan spell will give him a run of games to challenge for a first-team position, in the same way that Brian McCaul benefitted from a loan spell at Glenavon in 2012.
There’s a quality player there, that’s why Linfield are prepared to give him every opportunity to improve his fitness, but it will be three years since he was a first-team regular by the time the Summer arrives.
You may remember me saying I was hoping to go to Waterford for a short break in mid March. Well, I farted about for too long and didn’t book it.
My main purpose for visiting would be to see Waterford Walls, but you should know by now that I like to sneak in a football match wherever I travel.
On Monday, Waterford face Bohs, and they are currently sitting second in the table, level on points with Cork City. They’re probably glad i’m not going as they’d probably be bottom of the League.
So, a big week awaits for Linfield. A Cup Semi-Final and three more points is the goal.