Entering Windsor Park in the sunshine as Some Kind Of Bliss by Her Majesty Kylie Minogue blasts out on the tannoy. As song titles go, it’s not one that would sum up Linfield’s season. Wake Me Up When It’s All Over could have doubled up as a tribute to Avicii and an accurate summary of Linfield’s season. By the time the full-time whistle blew, History Repeating by Propellerheads would have been an apt choice of song.
History repeated itself in so many ways. The first was the pre-match scenario.
Matchday 37, the sun is shining, Linfield face Coleraine as they look to overtake a team one point in front, while looking for a favour from Ballymena United. Just as it was last year.
The big difference, was that Linfield were aiming for 3rd rather than 1st.
A pitiful surrender at Seaview last weekend didn’t lead to much optimism amongst Linfield’s support pre-match.
That surrender at Seaview led to three changes in the starting eleven, although two of them were enforced due to suspensions to Andrew Waterworth and Andrew Mitchell. Stephen Fallon dropped to the bench as Jimmy Callacher, Achille Campion and Ryan Strain came into the team.
Jimmy Callacher coming into the team meant that Josh Robinson was pushed into midfield. I’ve been critical at times of Robinson’s performance this season, but he did well today.
Carroll was in goal for Linfield, no surprise there, but there was another Carroll in the Linfield squad today, with young striker Adam Carroll taking his place on the bench.
The only team in the League to lose four times to Crusaders, there is one positive record this season that Linfield do have, the only team to have beaten Coleraine in the League.
It was a match for me, and quite a few other Linfield fans that would be viewed from the Railway Stand, the stand being made available to Linfield fans on a trial basis.
It is definitely worth trialing, and letting this trial continue into the early months of next season. The tail end of a season that has sucked the life and enthusiasm out of everyone is never going to be the best barometer.
There are a few things that need to be ironed out.
There is absolutely no reason why fans can’t access the Railway Stand via the South Stand. There is no need to segregate the two stands. I know it’s been a bad season, but hardly so bad that we need to be kept apart from each other.
The two stands being kept apart leads nicely into my next observation, albeit one that doesn’t affect me.
Feel free to correct me if i’m wrong, but there didn’t appear to be any facilities for anyone who wanted to get an alcoholic beverage before the match or at half-time if they so wished. All that could be remedied by making it possible for people to freely move between the two stands.
It’s the little things that can make the difference. I’ve always felt that Linfield disadvantage themselves by not having fans behind the goal at Windsor Park.
You see matches away from home where Linfield are attacking with their fans behind the goal. You always feel that Linfield will get a goal. We have two stands, we should be putting our fans in one of them.
It’ll also serve a purpose as it’ll stop goalkeepers timewasting when the ball goes behind the goal if fans can return it quickly.
Linfield were straight on the attack, they were up for it, putting Coleraine straight under pressure, with Coleraine being forced to concede corners. From those corners, Coleraine goalkeeper Chris Johns was struggling. There were goals in this for Linield.
On 14 minutes, Linfield got one of those when a cross from Matthew Clarke was headed home by Achille Campion to put Linfield 1-0 up with his first goal at Windsor Park.
It was deserved. Unlike so many times this season, Linfield had scored when they were on top.
At the other end of the field, Eoin Bradley was enduring a frustrating afternoon. He spent most of the afternoon trying to goad and get a reaction out of Linfield’s defenders. They weren’t playing ball.
His afternoon was summed up as he tried to keep the ball in play by backheeling it off a Linfield defender, making a mess of it and conceding a throw.
He then tried to shield the ball and invite a foul from Jimmy Callacher. The foul didn’t come, and Bradley ended up conceding a throw. His afternoon only lasted 45 minutes as he was substituted at half-time.
Bradley did have an attempt on goal, a low free-kick being saved by Roy Carroll who then smothered it before the ball could squirm in, just as it looked set to squeeze in.
Johns then produced a double save from Kurtis Byrne and Ryan Strain, though an offside flag did go up, although that was ignored as Coleraine went straight on the attack.
All their early pressure only brought one goal, Linfield got a second as the half began to meander, as a long ball forward fell to Kurtis Byrne, who fired home with his left foot for his third goal in four games.
Linfield then had an attack on the break where Robert Garrett had a long range shot saved by Johns, Kirk Millar followed up on the rebound and dinked the ball over him, but also over the bar.
Linfield were feeling unstoppable.
In the final moment of the game, Eoin Bradley’s fortunes looked to be taking an upward turn, as he had a sight of goal, only to have that sight obstructed by a block from Mark Stafford.
The first-half was a repeat of the first-half when the sides met at Windsor Park in November 2017.
The lesson from that day was that if Coleraine pulled a goal back, it could be a nervous afternoon for Linfield.
In that match in November last year, Aaron Burns came on as a substitute for Linfield. Today, he came on as a substitute for Coleraine today, coming on at half-time alongside Ian Parkhill and Jamie McGonigle.
Second-half goals have been a speciality for Coleraine in recent weeks, drawing first-half blanks against Larne, Crusaders, Cliftonville and Ballymena United, and emerging with three wins and a draw.
In the game in November, the opening minutes of the second-half saw a lot of Coleraine pressure. That was expected to be the case again, but in fact it was the other way around.
A clearance from Chris Johns fell to Kirk Millar in the right midfield position, who returned it immediately.
He couldn’t replicate his goal against Ballinamallard United on the opening day of last season, curling wide of the goal but staying in play, Coleraine struggling to clear in their right-back position.
Kurtis Byrne then narrowly chipped wide from a wide position, as Linfield went in search of a third goal they needed to secure the points.
Coleraine fans were soon cheering a goal, but not at Windsor Park, across the city at Seaview as Cliftonville went 1-0 up against Crusaders.
It was Coleraine fans loudest cheer of the day. It was their only cheer of the day.
That joy was short-lived as Crusaders equalised immediately. Coleraine still had to help themselves as there was no point in Crusaders dropping points if they were doing likewise.
A cross from the right almost caught out Roy Carroll, hitting the post, while Carroll had to tip over a header that looked like sneaking in.
It looked like being one of those days for Coleraine as Linfield looked set to hold out.
Out of nowhere, Coleraine got a lifeline when Roy Carroll conceded a penalty.
As if the situation wasn’t tense enough for Darren McCauley as he waited to take the kick, there was a delay due to an injured Linfield player receiving treatment, as well as two Linfield substitutions, Stephen Fallon and Louis Rooney coming on for Achille Campion and Ryan Strain.
McCauley finished the penalty to make it 2-1, and with fifteen minutes to go, it set it up for a tense finish.
Linfield went straight on the attack, with Chris Johns forced into turning the ball around for a corner.
Before you could say that it was good to see that Linfield were dusting themselves down and getting on with it, Coleraine were level when a simple crossfield pass played in Darren McCauley to make it 2-2.
As soon as McCauley got the ball, there was only going to be one outcome.
There was no real science to it, one pass and he was through on goal. Once again, Linfield concede another bad goal.
It was similar (albeit from a different side) to Jamie McGonigle’s ‘goal’ when the sides met in October 2017.
Just as when the sides last met in January, the away side scored two quickfire goals to turn 0-2 into 2-2.
This match was like a Greatest Hits of matches between Linfield and Coleraine this season. Everything that happened in those three games happened at some point in this game.
Unlike in January when Linfield pulled it back to 2-2, Coleraine had time on their side to go on and win the game.
Coleraine couldn’t get a winner but neither could Linfield. The closest either side came to a goal was when Jimmy Callacher had a goalbound header blocked.
It finished 2-2, not an ideal result for either side. Draws in the other two Section A games mean that nothing changed at the top. Linfield and Coleraine will be ruing dropped points, but will be thankful others didn’t putt clear of them.
Both sides will be looking for a favour from others as their destiny will be out of their hands. Linfield will be looking for a favour from Coleraine a week after trying to kill off their title bid.
And if Linfield take advantage of a favour from Coleraine, we’ll be needing another one in the Irish Cup Final.
I was genuinely surprised and thankful that Ballymena got a draw at Mourneview Park.
I was also surprised that Cliftonville got a draw at Seaview. With last week’s defeat to Glenavon theoretically (but not mathematically) ending their hopes of 3rd place, I thought Cliftonville would have been winding down the League season in preparation for the Irish Cup Final, especially to avoid suspensions.
That result keeps the race for the title going until the last day, which is good as Coleraine will have to get something against Glenavon, which would benefit Linfield if they do. Coleraine’s pre-match mood would have been a lot more despondent if they were trailing Crusaders by two points with an inferior goal difference.
That draw at Seaview will also ensure no complacency (I hope) from Linfield fans and players who may think Cliftonville’s minds may be elsewhere.
It is a result that makes Linfield’s pitiful surrender last week even worse as Coleraine, Glenavon and Cliftonville have all emerged from Seaview in recent weeks unbeaten.
Hopefully, Linfield’s players will spend the Summer reading the following sentence over and over again – Do not be afraid of Crusaders, do not be a afraid of Crusaders, do not be afr …….
It doesn’t matter if Cliftonville have one eye or two eyes on the Irish Cup Final, all that matters is Linfield’s performance and application.
Cliftonville won’t want to go into their biggest match of the season with three defeats and a draw in their previous four matches.
Linfield will go into that game with one enforced change due to Mark Haughey serving a suspension. I would expect (and hope) that Joe Crowe will come in for him.
Who knows what is going to happen next Saturday?
As tense as it will be, i’d rather be playing for 1st than playing for 3rd on the last day of the season.
One thing that looks a certainty will be a delayed kick-off. I’ll be amazed if all three games in Section A kick off at 3pm.
With the outcome of the three games linking to each other, a delayed kick-off in Lurgan or Ballymena due to crowd congestion will have a knock-on effect of the other two games having to be delayed.
On the plus side, if there is a delayed kick-off, Linfield will get to be Champions for an extra fifteen minutes.
In Section B, the bottom two, like the top two, are separated by goal difference, with Carrick Rangers edging out Ballinamallard United.
Given the choice, I can’t say Carrick would be missed. Ten men behind the ball and foul as soon as the ball goes into their half. At least Ballinamallard try to play football.
One good thing about Carrick’s win at The Oval, apart from the obvious, is that it kills off Glentoran’s momentum.
One advantage that the team in 7th will have in relation to the UEFA Cup Play-Offs is that by playing the bottom five, they have the opportunity to get some form and momentum going into the Play-Offs.
That is now two defeats in three games for Glentoran. I’d expect Ballinamallard, on a six game unbeaten run and with so much to play for, to get a win at The Oval. Wether it will be enough to stay up, is another matter.
Got to feel for Ards and Dungannon Swifts fans, or possibly envy them, as their meeting at Clandeboye Park will be the only game with nothing riding on it.
One team definitely celebrating a title is Institute, who secured promotion after winning the NIFL Championship.
As you will already know, their ground is unusable after flooding last Summer. This season, they have alternated between Wilton Park and Limavady Showgrounds, while there are also rumours that they want to use The Brandywell.
Whichever of those three grounds they use, it will be a new one for me.
As previously mentioned, ideally Linfield will be away to Institute on Saturday 11th August, as Embrace are doing a concert in Limavady that day. A nice double header.
Meanwhile in England, Sunderland got relegated to League One. Ha ha ha. Poznan related “Banter”, cringeworthy halfscarfery at the 2014 League Cup Final, voting for Brexit, viewing announcing the first result at a General Election as an achievement. There’s really not a lot redeeming about Sunderland.
Finally, a club goal by Liam Boyce that is worth celebrating.
Elsehwere in the Nort-East, Middlesbrough continue to hold on to a Play-Off spot.
The reason why I have an interest in Middlesbrough this season is that Newcastle hosts the 2019 European Rugby Cup Final. Obviously, Newcastle would be away that weekend, but logically, Middlesbrough would be at home if they are in the Premier League. That would be a very tempting double header.
Yep, i’m already planning my football trips for 2018-2019.
Hopefully, i’ll have only one more Linfield match in 2017-2018