A late run of form saw Ballymena claim the last place in the Top Six ahead of Glentoran. It wasn’t just the obvious opportunity to laugh at Glentoran having a second successive season of Bottom Six football. Having paid for a Season Ticket last summer, and liking to watch my pennies, having three home games and not having to go to The Oval today was also a positive.
A week long break after that win over Ballinamallard killed Ballymena’s momentum, and they couldn’t recover it on Easter Tuesday, losing 3-0 at home to Cliftonville.
That win for Cliftonville, combined with Linfield’s win over Glenavon meant that 3rd place Glenavon and 5th place Cliftonville were separated by two points, with Linfield sandwiched in 4th, level with Glenavon.
Depending on the result of the Irish Cup Final, 3rd place could guarantee an automatic place in Europe next season. Every point is vital, Linfield had to grab three of them today, especially with Glenavon and Cliftonville travelling away to the top two.
Linfield were unchanged from Tuesday night’s game. A bit surprising, as Jimmy Callacher was available after serving a one match ban, Josh Robinson kept his place, with Callacher on the bench. Robert Garrett was serving the second game of his two match ban.
Not a lot happened in this first-half, but what did happen, Andrew Waterworth was involved.
He had Linfield’s first attempt on goal, creating space for himself before firing over, as well as having a goal disallowed for offside. Looked it, so no complaints.
Waterworth also got himself a yellow card for shoulder barging a Ballymena player who accused him of diving, four days after a Glenavon player didn’t even get a yellow card for pushing him over.
That’s the sort of consistency we love from Irish League Referees.
Trying to goad Linfield players seemed to be a tactic by Ballymena in the first-half, with several of their players trying to gang up on Kurtis Byrne after a collision with Jim Ervin. Thankfully, Linfield players didn’t take the bait.
Linfield had to make a first-half sub when Niall Quinn went off injured, replaced by Stephen Fallon.
Conor McCloskey had the only first-half shot after a run, which was easily and spectacularly saved by Roy Carroll, for the benefit of Photographers.
Linfield needed to step it up in the second-half, especially when they digested the half-time scores from elsewhere.
Glenavon were 1-0 down away to Crusaders, which meant that Linfield would jump above them, but Cliftonville were 1-0 up away to Coleraine, meaning they would now be level on points with Linfield, and have a lot of momentum going in their favour.
There was a scenario pre-match where a 0-0 draw for Linfield and a 4-1 win for Cliftonville would see Linfield and Cliftonville level on points with identical records. Linfield’s part of that “bargain” was lookign very likely to happen.
Mark Stafford was involved in the early minutes of the second-half, producing a goal saving tackle as Matthew Shevlin looked set to finished after a run. Minutes later, he headed home from a corner to put Linfield 1-0 up in a game where the first goal was vital.
There were a few corners before that which went right to the penalty spot area. Either nobody attacked or a Ballymena player got their first. All Linfield needed was for one of their players to win it, and they were going to get their reward.
It was also an unexpected consequence of Niall Quinn’s absence. The corner came in from the right hand side, with Kirk Millar taking it due to no left footed set piece takers on the pitch, an outwsinger, where it would have been an inswinger if Quinn was on the pitch.
Roy Carroll was forced into a couple of saved from long range shots, as Linfield needed a second goal.
That almost came from a shot from Kurtis Byrne from outside the box, but it was tipped onto the post.
He got it a few minutes later when Kirk Millar kept the ball in on the byline, going forward to Andrew Waterworth close to the corner flag. He waited for the moment to cross, and did so just as Byrne was running through, finishing from close range to give Linfield the points.
Byrne and Waterworth were replaced by Achille Campion and Louis Rooney, with Campion and Rooney combining to create a chance for Stephen Lowry, who couldn’t bundle the ball home from close range. It didn’t matter.
Results elswhere took a dramatic turn, with Glenavon coming from behind to get a draw at Crusaders, while Coleraine came from behind to get a late win against Cliftonville.
That means that Linfield are now 3rd. I can’t remember the last time they were that high. Most importantly, they have a five point lead over Cliftonville with nine points to play for.
Net Saturday, Cliftonville are at home to Glenavon. A draw would be perfect. Whatever the result, Linfield can pull clear of one or both of them with a win at Seaview.
Although results against Crusaders this season have been poor this season (being kind), there’s no reason why Linfield can’t go to Seaview and win.
Crusaders are in a rut, they’ve only won two of their last five games.
If we go there, get stuck in, attack them, and make sure we defend properly, we are more than capable of getting the three points. Basically, just do everything we haven’t done against them this season. Linfield are the form team of the two, relatively speaking.
So, a win, a clean sheet, and other results went our way. That’s what I would call a good day.
Linfield won’t win the League this season, but they will have a big say in who does, with Crusaders and Coleraine coming up next. Hopefully, we’ll have the biggest voice in who finishes 3rd.