It had been a while since I had seen Linfield take on the PSNI. So long in fact, that they were known as the RUC.
That was back in the Summer of 1995, but it had similarities with the Summer 2018, as Linfield added a host of new names to their squad to regain the title after a poor defence of it the previous season.
We all now how the next few years went after 1995, hopefully there won’t be a repeat this time around.
This was a game I was looking forward to as soon as it was announced. Not too far to travel, easy to get to, and a ground I hadn’t seen Linfield play at, though I did visit the ground in 2015.
No floodlights at Newforge, which made the 7.30pm kick-off a bit of a surprise, though a lovely summer evening negated the need for lights.
There were nor Trialists for Linfield, but some new signings getting an opportunity in the case of starts for Joel Cooper and Michael O’Connor, and a debut for Ryan McGivern, who had signed earlier that day.
A central midfielder is a priority, but when a player of McGivern’s ability becomes available, it would be rude not to take advantage.
Cooper and O’Connor were in the thick of the action when Linfield went forward, both of whom hitting the bar, while Cooper had a low shot saved after cutting in from the right.
There was a moment of worry for Linfield in the first-half when Kirk Millar went down in agony after a tackle. Thankfully, a bit of magic sponge and he was better. The pitch wasn’t in the best condition, so it was always going to cause concern when a player went down.
As well as a new centre midfielder, a right foot for Jordan Stewart wouldn’t be a bad purchase.
On Saturday, he wasted a great opportunity to shoot by wanting to get the ball onto his left foot, and missed a great opportunity to cross in this game.
When games are decided on small margins, Linfield can’t afford to pass up on attacking opportunities.
Though pre-season is all about fitness and players settling in, it is nice to win. Linfield had the chances in the first-half but couldn’t really say they were dominant.
Only ten minutes for half-time, due to wanting to make the most of the sunlight, Linfield were straight on the attack in the early minutes. There looked to be only one team going to win this game.
Of course, that could only mean one thing, a PSNI goal, and the Peelers issued some rough justice with a lobbed finish to go 1-0 up.
From where I was, at the opposite end of the pitch, it looked like Gareth Deane could have done better with his positioning.
If he was at fault for the goal, he more than redeemed himself throughout the rest of the game with a series of saves to keep Linfield in the game.
Linfield responded to the goal by bringing on Andrew Waterworth and Jamie Mulgrew.
It was a game similar to a League Cup tie at Ballyclare in 2014. Only one team winning it at 0-0, then conceded a goal which gave them something to hold on to, which they did.
As the game wore on, Linfield put more pressure on the PSNI goal, hitting the bar for a third time as they searched for a get out of jail card.
Eventually, the pressure was rewarded in injury time when the ball fell to Andrew Waterworth in the box, and he made no mistake.
It felt like last season all over again. Hopefully, we’re just getting it out of our system before the seasons starts.
Hopefully, it will have been a distant memory by the time the sides meet next, in the County Antrim Shield in late September, the draw taking place on Tuesday teatime.
Another draw that took place this week was the UEFA Cup draw, meaning that both Hibs and Rangers are away on the week i’m in Scotland, so i’ll have to make do with Edinburgh City v Albion Rovers when i’m there.
In other news, the away match against Glentoran in October will be live on Sky Sports. Hopefully, there’ll be a repeat of the time we beat Cliftonville 2-0 rather than when we lost 5-2 to Crusaders. Set your recorders.
Up next is a friendly against Ballyclare, where it is expected that players not involved in this game will take part, as Linfield look to make the most of their squad.
It is a squad that if it had one more centre midfielder, is more than capable of a title challenge.
Where do you get that player? There’s no point signing somebody for the sake of it.
If we get him, there is cause to be optimistic for 2018-2019.
We’ll have to do better than this game though.
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