Linfield faced Glenavon on Easter Tuesday, just as they did last year. The goal was a lot different.
You’ll be hearing comparisons to last year, it’s the same fixture list. Curiously, the venues for all five games are different from last year.
The goal for Linfield was now 3rd place, which would guarantee European football if Coleraine win the Irish Cup.
Linfield were sandwiched in 4th, three points behind Glenavon and two ahead of Cliftonville. A win for Linfield would see them level on points with Glenavon. A three goal win for Linfield would see them overtake Glenavon. Most of us would be happy with just a one goal win.
It wasn’t just a new housing development near Mourneview Park called Linen Fields as they walked to the ground (Yes, a housing development near a football ground named after a rival team) that made Linfield fans feel at home, it was four wins and a draw from their last five visits to Lurgan.
There were two changes to Linfield’s starting eleven, both enforced through suspensions, with Josh Robinson coming in for Jimmy Callacher and Andrew Mitchell coming in for Robert Garrett.
Linfield started the game on the attack, resulting in Kirk Millar getting in behind Glenavon’s defence inside the first minute, only to be denied by a tackle, which fell to Stephen Lowry, whose shot was saved, then hit the post, before a Mark Haughey shot went behind for a corner. Linfield’s season summed up in one move.
The positive was, Linfield were up for it and Glenavon looked off the pace. Linfield had to take advantage of it.
That is what they did from the resulting corner, when Mark Stafford headed goalwards. It probably would have been cleared, but for Kurtis Byrne finishing it off and heading home from a few yards out to give Linfield the lead.
Linfield didn’t stop there, continuing to attack Glenavon. Just like in the meeting at Mourneview in November, Glenavon’s defence were in fear of Andrew Waterworth, panicking every time the ball went near him, or he went near them in search of the ball.
He knew there was a goal, or goals, to be had for him.
Andrew Mitchell was next on the scoresheet. Unfortunately, it was the Glenavon one and not the Linfield one.
It was Glenavon’s first real attack of note, a simple header won and an easy finish from close range.
Linfield dusted themselves down and were straight on the attack, winning a corner.
That corner was punched clear to Andrew Mitchell, the Linfield one. He had the option of a first time cross or a pass to Niall Quinn, who was free and in space.
Mitchell went for the cross, but it was poor. He got lucky though, as the clearance fell to Niall Quinn, whose cross was headed home by Andrew Waterworth to put Linfield back in front.
That lead saw some moments of threat during the rest if the half, with Matthew Clarke having to make a goal line clearance, while Andrew Mitchell headed over in the final moments of the half.
Glenavon started the second-half strongly, Linfield couldn’t get out of their half. It was no surprise when Glenavon made it 2-2 on 54 minutes when Bobby Burns finished a cross from close range.
Glenavon had all the momentum and looked set to go on and win the game. Or so they thought.
Straight from kick-off, Linfield were straight on the attack, and a low cross found Stephen Lowry, who scored from the rebound after his shot was saved.
Incredibly, Linfield had scored just over a minute after the game kicked off, for the third time.
If you were to compile a list of the silliest games in the Irish League over the past four years, Glenavon would feature prominently. This was another to add to the list.
Linfield have more than enough silly games this season. Thankfully, they were on the right side of the silliness.
Linfield needed a two goal lead just to be sure. They had a glorious opportunity when Andrew Waterworth was played through.
He had two options, to finish low, or to pass it left and give Niall Quinn an open net. He did neither, as Tuffey saved his shot.
Linfield fans had a sense of deja vu. We’d seen this all before. We knew what the ending wuld be. A last minute Glenavon equaliser, and we’d all be ruing that missed opportunity.
Glenavon had attempts on goal, but nothing that worried Linfield. The only real moment of worry came a Glenavon threw himself to the ground after a cross in injury time. You are always that way with Irish League referees.
Linfield had their chances on the counter, with Andrew Waterworth and Niall Quinn hitting the side netting from tight angles.
Linfield weren’t to regret those chances, as they saw out the game to win 3-2. It wasn’t the three goal win that would have put them 3rd, but it did put them level with Glenavon. Cliftonville won 3-0 away to Ballymena to remain two points clear of Cliftonville. It’s just as tight between 3rd and 5th as it is between 1st and 2nd.
The three goals that separate Linfield and Glenavon are more than retrievable. Unfortunately, so are the three goals and two points that separate Linfield and Cliftonville.
There’s even the possibility that Linfield and Cliftonville could be level on points with identical records. Imagine if they finished joint 3rd and Coleraine win the Irish Cup. That would be some fun arranging a Play-Off to avoid playing in the UEFA Cup Play-Offs.
Realistically, it’s between Linfield and Cliftonville for 3rd. Glenavon look shot.
After the game, Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton criticised the referee’s performance. But he definitely definitely definitely wasn’t putting the referee under pressure for Glenavon’s next match.
I doubt Coleraine fans were too unhappy to hear his comments.
One result that did work in Linfield’s favour on Saturday was Crusaders drawing 1-1 at home to Coleraine. It keeps the title race alive, which is handy as Crusaders face Glenavon and Coleraine face Cliftonville on Saturday. Meanwhile, Linfield are at home to Ballymena United.
You would expect at least one of Glenavon and Cliftonville, possibly both, to fail to win. Saturday’s fixtures represent a great opportunity for Linfield to get points on the board in the race for 3rd. We have to take advantage of it.
The Saturday before this saw the Irish Cup Semi-Finals go the way as expected. Cliftonville’s game against Loughgall was always going to be unbearable, whatever the result.
The fact that Cliftonville had the game won in six minutes made the Quarter-Final worse. That really was one thrown away.
Hopefully, by the time the Irish Cup Final comes around, Linfield will be in a position to have some benefit of Coleraine.
What will I be doing that day? Going to see David Hepworth at CQAF.
Slightly off topic, but i’ve got a real random urge to go travelling somewhere. I don’t know where, but I just want to go somewhere.
One trip i’m hoping to do in August, isn’t too far, but needs a few things to fall into place.
Embrace are confirmed as headlining Stendhal Festival in Limavady in August. Now, I just need a few things to fall into place. I would need it to be Saturday 11th August, and for Linfield to be away to Institute that day. That would be a very tempting day trip. Then I just need to sort out accommodation.
Last Sunday, Sunday Life reporting that the UEFA Cup Play-Offs would be taking place at Windsor Park on Saturday 12th May, a day long event of football at Windsor Park with the first match kicking off at 12pm and the last game at 7.45pm, meaning teams having two or possibly three games in one day.
And then you check the date, Sunday 1st April. April Fool. The worrying thing is, this is Irish League football, you could almost believe somebody proposed it.
And so, we leave on a sad note, with the death of Adam Coates, the voice of Irish League football when I was growing up.
I remember at The Oval, they wouldn’t bother playing music at half-time, but just play Sportsound over the tannoy, and when they did the half-time report of the match at The Oval, the fans of the team that were winning would let out a big roar when the score was announced.