Last week, I entered Windsor Park to the sound of Some Kind Of Bliss, it was a song title not in keeping with Linfield’s season.
This week, the song on the tannoy as I entered the ground was You’re In A Bad Way by Saint Etienne. Sadly, apt, but the season was still retrievable.
This was one of five games on the final day with something riding on it.
Linfield were in the hunt for 3rd place, that would guarantee automatic qualification to the UEFA Cup if Coleraine win the Irish Cup.
Linfield kicked-off one point behind Glenavon, but while Glenavon faced a side going for the title, Linfield were facing a team locked in 5th and looking forward to the Irish Cup Final. That was reflected in their starting eleven.
Linfield’s starting eleven had three changes from their last match. Mark Haughey was suspended and replaced by Joe Crowe and Josh Robinson was replaced by Stephen Lowry.
Goals from Achille Campion and Kurtis Byrne against Coleraine gave David Healy a selection headache with Andrew Waterworth returning from a one match ban.
On Monday morning, young Ryan Strain was injured in a car collision. I don’t know any more about that other than what was posted on the club’s website. Naturally, best wishes to him.
It’s a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but he played well against Coleraine, making his absence even worse for him. His place was taken by the returning Waterowrth.
Cliftonville’s starting eleven was full of a lot of unfamiliar names. The names that stood out were those not in it – Neeson, J Donnelly, R Donnelly, Gormley, Curran.
This was a match watched from the South Stand. The experiment of allowing Linfield fans to watch from the Railway Stand lasting only one match.
Inside the opening thirty seconds of the match, Linfield had their first promising attack when Achille Campion looked set to get behind Cliftonville’s defence but he just couldn’t get clear of his defender to have a shot.
A goalmouth scramble saw a Jimmy Callacher overhead be blocked by a Cliftonville defender. Shouts for handball by Linfield fans were ambitious.
It was a good positive start by Linfield, though that was something we’d heard before this season.
Cliftonville rode out that storm. Well, it wasn’t really a storm, more of an inconvenient breeze if you want to use a weather analogy, and began to have some attacking possession of their own. No clear opportunities, but Linfield forced into clearances, mostly caused by sloppily giving possession away.
It was being sloppy in possession that would cost Linfield, not a goal, but a player, as Robert Garrett was sent-off for a late tackle on Jude Winchester after miscontrolling the ball.
It was a tackle that he had no chance of winning and didn’t need to be made. It kept up his record of being sent-off every four years against Cliftonville after red cards in 2010 and 2014.
If you’re looking free money in 2022. you know what to bet on.
If Linfield were to play in the UEFA Cup Play-Offs, Garrett would miss the Semi-Final, possibly the Final as well if Linfield get there. As it was his second red card this season, his ban will probably extend into next season.
With Josh Robinson starting a ban on Monday, i’m not sure how many games Andrew Mitchell has been banned for after his red card against Crusaders. With Jamie Mulgrew also injured since mid March, if Linfield do have to face a UEFA Cup Play-Off, they’ll have a crisis in terms of who to pick in midfield.
Discipline has been a serious issue for Linfield this season. In four out of five Post-Split matches, Linfield have had at least one, in some cases two, players suspended.
It’s blatantly obvious why that is not a good thing, key players missing in key games, as well as unnecessary disruption in terms of team selection.
You could see Cliftonville players get a boost from this, and Linfield heads go down. There was no rolling up the sleeves and getting on with it, like against Glenavon in November 2016.
With 80 minutes to go with ten men, it was always going to be tough. Linfield didn’t have to look back to November 2016 for inspiration in getting a result with ten men for most of the game, as Atletico Madrid held their own away to Arsenal with ten men for 80 minutes less just two days previously.
How apt, as you could say, as you could say that Cliftonville are the Arsenal of the Irish League. They have a soft centre and you always think they will drop points against lower ranked opponents. When they’re bad, they’re bad. When they’re good, they’re good. Over the next ten minutes, Linfield were to make Cliftonville look very good.
During that period, they went 2-0 up with goals from Jude Winchester and Daniel Reynolds. An already tough task had just got tougher for Linfield.
The only response that Linfield offered was a shot from Andrew Waterworth that went just wide after a pull back from Achille Campion.
You would have thought it was Cliftonville who needed the points to secure 3rd. It was frankly embarrassing from Linfield. This wasn’t even Cliftonville’s first choice team.
It wasn’t just Linfield who were being given the runaround by Cliftonville Reserves, so too was referee Keith Kennedy, who took no action as Clifonville timewsted at will.
The most embarrassing incident came when he stopped the game to allow a Cliftonville player to go into the concourse of The Kop to retrieve a ball that went out for a throw, even though a ballboy standing right beside him offered him an alternative ball.
You wouldn’t see a game being stopped like that in park football.
In truth, Linfield were thankful to be only 2-0 down at half-time.
Cliftonville fans had a more arduous afternoon walking to the Top Tier of the North Stand than their players were having on the pitch.
On the last game of last season, Linfield trailed Cliftonville at half-time. Back then, it was never in doubt that Linfield would come back and win the game, despite how bad they had played in the first-half.
Today, nobody had that belief.
You would have expected a Linfield response in the opening minutes of the second-half. Like most of the season, expectations were not met.
In fact, it was Cliftonville who looked most likely to score, with Conor McDonald firing a long range shot wide, while Ross Lavery had a low shot saved by Roy Carroll, while Carroll had to save a header from Stephen Garrett that looked like it was going to loop in.
Linfield’s response? Erm …….
By now, Stephen Fallon and Louis Rooney had come on for Joe Crowe and Achille Campion.
Out of nowhere, Linfield got a goal back, a header by Jimmy Callacher on 74 minutes. There was only half hearted celebrations from Linfield fans.
That suggested it was just a consolation rather than the start of a fightback.
Mark Stafford had a shot blocked on the line before having a goal disallowed for a foul on Cliftonville’s goalkeeper. It was a soft decision.
Linfield never looking like making it 2-2 to make the disallowed goal an issue.
Cliftonville held out and won the game 2-1.
It was another game that emphasised how badly Linfield miss Jamie Mulgrew when he doesn’t play. There was nobody to keep spirits up after the red card. There was nobody driving the team forward when they needed a goal.
When he gets the ball, you feel like something will happen. That’s why he gets fouled so much. Teams are scared of what he can do when he gets the ball.
There is nobody on the squad who can do what he does. He’s not getting any younger. It’s an issues that will have to be addressed on a long-term and short-term basis.
The result condemned Linfield to the UEFA Cup Play-Offs alongside Ballymena United and Glentoran. The final place will be Cliftonville (If Coleraine win the Irish Cup) or Glenavon (If Cliftonville win the Irish Cup)
It really should have been Linfield hanging on the result of the Irish Cup Final. They only have themselves to blame. Six points dropped against Glentoran, Ballinamallard United and Coleraine cost Linfield, as did the surrender at Seaview two weeks ago.
And that was just the last six weeks.
If Coleraine win the Irish Cup, Linfield will be at home to Glentoran while Cliftonville will be at home to Ballymena United.
If Cliftonville win the Irish Cup, Linfield will be at home to Ballymena United while Glenavon will be at home to Glentoran.
Hear me out, but i’m leaning towards a Cliftonville win in the Irish Cup Final next week.
Mainly because the dates of the games don’t suit me.
The Semi-Finals will be on Wednesday 9th May. I’ve got a ticket for Noel Gallagher at The Odyssey that night. If we’re playing Glentoran, I may be stupid enough to sell my ticket for Noel.
The Final is Saturday 12th May. I’ll be going to Manchester that day for Manchester United v Watford.
It’s my own fault for suggesting last year that the Final should be on a Saturday rather than a Friday, as it was last year.
However, it is still out of order for NIFL to arrange fixtures without consulting my social diary first.
Can’t say i’m feeling optimistic about the Play-Offs. Can’t say any of the following scenarios seem appealing:
Linfield 0-0 Ballymena United (0-1 on penalties)
Linfield 1-2 Glentoran AET
Glenavon 1 (Joel Cooper 90+3) Linfield 0
If Linfield aren’t going into the Play-Offs in great shape, it’s some consolation that neither are any of the other teams. Here’s the form
Glenavon : 1 win in 10 games
Linfield : 0 wins in 3, 6 goals conceded in 3 games
Cliftonville : 1 win in 5 games
Ballymena United : 0 wins and 1 goal in 5 games
Glentoran : 3 defeats in 4 games
The Play-Offs are a farce. It’s a reward for mediocrity. It’s equivalent to the team that finishes 17th in The Championship having an opportunity for promotion to the Premier League.
Check my archive, my view has been consistent on this, even though Linfield would be potentially benefitting from this if Cliftonville win the Irish Cup.
I had the choice of going to United v Arsenal or United v Watford. I’m beginning to think I should have given this game a miss and gone to Old Trafford instead.
If you care about results elsewhere, Crusaders won the League. A victory for hoofball and thuggery. There are too many teams in the League who are scared of Crusaders. Shamefully, Linfield are one of those teams. I thought that nonsense was put to bed in 2016-2017.
On the plus side, they have a lot of players in or approaching their 30s, so it will be fun over the next few years watching them struggle when they all hit a brick wall at the same time.
Ballinamallard got relegated. I do enjoy travelling to Ballinamallard, especially the Retro/Vintage Store in the town. Can’t say I feel too sorry for the tramp that operates the turnstiles who smokes away as you enter the ground.
Carrick Rangers will play Newry City in a Play-Off. I haven’t been to Newry since 2010, so i’m long overdue a visit.
In other Play-Offs, Cover Rangers beat Spartans 4-0 in the SPFL Play-Offs, meaning that there won’t be a new Edinburgh team in the SPFL, so i’ll just have a choice of three teams when I visit Edinburgh in August.
I’ll miss most of the Irish Cup Final as i’ll be going to see David Hepworth at CQAF. I wish I was having a vested interest in that game. Or even, better, going to that game to see Linfield play.