For the second time this month, Linfield began a match having just been knocked off the top of the table. The last time that happened, they took advantage of other teams being inactive to beat Warrenpoint Town 5-0 and return to the top.
If Linfield were to make another immediate return to the top, they would need Glenavon to drop points at home to Dungannon Swifts. There was no point worrying about what Glenavon did or didn’t do, Linfield had to help themselves.
Glenavon’s win over Ards which knocked Linfield off the top of the table was one of three rescheduled games played in midweek. Another of those was Ballymena United’s draw away to Coleraine.
A draw and a defeat in their last two games has seen them go from being potentially one point behind Linfield to falling a bit behind them. There is a traffic jam at the top of the table, but as we approach the milestone of matchday eleven when everybody will have played each other, Linfield knew if they kept winning, they would pull away from teams, such as Ballymena, if they won this game.
Linfield went into this game with an unchanged starting eleven from the draw at Coleraine. There was the boost, however, of Andrew Waterworth being available for a place on the bench after injury.
This was a match, for me, that would be viewed from The Kop, with the stand being open to Linfield fans for the first time in nearly four and a half years.
Hopefully, it would be a better result than the last time I watched a Linfield match from there in 2014, though Jordan Stewart would be hoping he would again score and be on the winning team. If he was to do so, he would do so from the bench.
This came after Linfield trialled the use of the Railway Stand for a match against Coleraine last season. I always feel that Linfield disadvantage themselves by not allowing fans to be based behind the goal at Windsor Park.
The only issue was not being able to freely move between South and Kop Stands like in the old days, as a lot of us like to watch the game from where we attack (you see this movement of fans at most away games) and would like to continue that at Windsor Park.
I didn’t try it or check it out, but some might like to sneak off to and from The Viewing Lounge, so I don’t know if they were able to. It’ll be trial and error for the first couple of games with these arrangements, so hopefully they’ll evolve to suit as many people as possible.
There were plenty of chances in the opening minutes, for both sides. Matthew Clarke was played through but a poor first touch meant that his shot was going to result in an easy save for Ross Glendenning instead of a goal.
I was at the other end and could see Roy Carroll put his hands on his head before the shot was hit.
Joel Cooper then had a first time right foot shot saved after being played in.
Michael O’Connor then set up the next chance at goal, but it was for Ballymena United when his attempted overhead kick clearance set up Jonny Addis for an overhead kick which went wide.
It was clear from the flurry of early chances that there were going to be goals in this game.
The first one came for Ballymena when a Cahir Friel header snuck in past Jamie Mulgrew on the line.
If that gave Linfield hope, so did recent history, with Ballymena blowing leads in the past week against Cliftonville and Coleraine (who had ten men) to lose and draw.
Despite only ten minutes being played, there wouldn’t be a lot of time left to win the game, as we would soon be treated to Ballymena’s timewasting (kicking the ball away at free-kicks, corners and throws) and cynical fouling, all unpunished with the yellow cards they deserved.
If there was no concern for Linfield at 0-1, there would have been concerns at 0-2, which almost happened when Andy McGrory had a free header soon afterwards.
Michael O’Connor equalised when he was able to get in front of his defender and finish from close range.
O’Connor looked set to make it 2-1 from a close range header but was denied by a world class save from an outstretched arm. It was an arm belonging to a Ballymena defender. However, no penalty was awarded.
Daniel Kearns then made some space for himself but fired wide from outside the penalty area as Linfield were unable to take a lead into the break.
After a slow start to the second-half, Linfield took the lead just before the hour mark when Joel Cooper ran at Ballymena’s defence and got into a shooting position on his right foot.
I was behind that goal, and it looked like he was trying to get onto his left foot. It turns out he’s quite decent on his right foot as well, firing home from the edge of the box. I was celebrating as soon as it left his foot.
Chris Casement then spectacularly went just wide as Linfield looked to kill the game, while Kirk Millar had a header saved by Ross Glendenning, whose save was a lot more spectacular than it needed to be.
Linfield couldn’t get the third goal, and the game remained in the balance, as Ballymena looked to get an equaliser, with Johnny McMurray and Tony Kane giving them moments of worry.
As each minute passed, Linfield were in control of the game and never looked like losing their lead, holding on to get the win. They had to as well, with Glenavon getting another win, meaning that the two sides are separated by one point in Glenavon’s favour.
Coleraine and Glentoran both drew, meaning that Glenavon and Linfield are starting to pull away from the rest of the league.
This has taken place over two matchdays, two bad results for either Glenavon or Linfield will see them being sucked back into a traffic jam in the table.
On the next weekend, the top four meet. Hopefully, Coleraine can take something off Glenavon, which would allow Linfield the opportunity to go back to the top.
Regardless of Glenavon’s result, a win at The Oval will see Linfield pull clear of Glentoran and open up a gap from them.
That game is live on Sky Sports. I’m sure you could afford to miss Paddington Station 24/7 just one week.
The weekend’s fixture list begins on Friday with Crusaders facing Cliftonville in the first ever League game live on BBCNI.
It could have been easy for them to choose to show a big team like Linfield, but fair play to them for giving mid table teams like Crusaders and Cliftonville a moment in the spotlight.
Looking a bit further ahead, i’ll be hoping Bohs beat Cork in the FAI Cup Semi-Final and then beat Dundalk in the Final.
Why? I hear you ask. Well, i’m hoping for a short break between Thursday 11th and Saturday 13th July next year, and would not be too unhappy if a Dublin team were at home in the UEFA Cup on Thursday 11th.
Looking further ahead, Euro 2024 will be held in Germany. Very tempted to go to this. However, the lack of options for flights between Northern Ireland and Germany mean that this might be a journey from Dublin.
And finally, you may remember that Belfast Telegraph did an April Fool’s prank that the UEFA Cup Play-Offs will take place on the one day at Windsor Park. Well, Scottish football are doing that with their League Cup Semi-Finals at Hampden Park.
You’ve got to love Scottish football, the only place that makes Irish League football look normal.