With Robert Prosinecki and Andy Herzog occupying the Manager’s Seat in the away dugout at Windsor Park this week, I was part expecting Gheorghe Hagi to keep up the theme of cult 90s midfielders by taking temporary charge of Dungannon Swifts following the departure of Rodney McAree to Coleraine for a match that wasn’t quite as exciting as a holiday in Salisbury.
It was Terry Fitzpatrick who had the manager’s role for Dungannon today. Even though they had no wins this season or a permanent manager, Dungannon had cause for optimisim as they had a relatively good recent record at Windsor Park, only losing one (and narrowly, 1-0) of their last four visits, and winning on their last visit, against Ballymena United in the League Cup Final.
After four months away from Windsor Park over the close season, this was my third successive Saturday visiting Windsor Park this month. The two previous visits had seen dominance from the home team not rewarded with a win.
Linfield began the game with an unchanged starting eleven from their last game at Warrenpoint. Slightly surprising, as Jamie Mulgrew was now available after suspension, but was on the bench.
That decision may have been made with an eye on the upcoming trilogy of games against Coleraine, Ballymena United and Glentoran.
Linfield had the first attacking moment of note when Michael O’Connor and Joel Cooper combine to pickpocket a Dungannon defender trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick, with Cooper crossing for Kirk Millar whose shot went just over.
Michael O’Connor then went close with a spectacular overhead kick as Linfield searched for a goal.
You always felt there was a mistake in Dungannon’s defence. A miscontrol from a pass across the penalty area almost resulted in a chance for Linfield, with some last gasp defending resulting in the concession of a corner.
Even though the goal didn’t come from the sustained pressure, there was no frustration from Linfied’s support.
Eventually, Linfield got the goal when Joel Cooper made space for himself in the penalty area and fired home from a tight angle.
Or did he? On viewing of TV footage afterwards, it appeared to go in off Daniel Kearns. I’ll let the Dubious Goals Committee decide it. It didn’t matter, Linfield had the lead.
Soon afterwards, it was 2-0, when Daniel Kearns found space, only for his shot to hit Michael O’Connor and fall perfectly for Joel Cooper to finish low to make it 2-0.
It may have been a stroke of luck for the ball to fall so perfectly for Cooper, but that’s the way the ball is bouncing for Linfield right now, might as well embrace it.
Dungannon had their own attacking moments, the best of which saw Paul McElroy hit the angle of post and bar.
A head injury for Michael O’Connor saw his game end at half-time, with Andrew Waterworth coming on for him.
Dungannon had their first real sustained period of possession and pressure, the closest they came was when a Chris Hegarty shot was saved by Roy Carroll. Unsurprisingly, with five clean sheets from six games, Linfield were able to see out the danger. Dungannon never looking like picking themselves up for another period of pressure.
Despite that, Linfield still needed a third goal just to be sure. They thought they had it when Joel Cooper fired in low, but the goal was disallowed for a handball.
That denied him a possible hat-trick (he would surely have been awarded the first goal if he had bagged another one). Curiously, September hat-tricks have been a thing for Linfield players in recent years.
Winky Murphy would have had one if it wasn’t for his honesty against Portadown in 2012, having to make do with two goals. Andrew Waterworth got one against Ballymena in 2013, and then four against Warrenpoint in 2015, while Jordan Stewart got one against Ballinamallard on this weekend last year.
There wouldn’t be one for Cooper. He would have to make do with two goals and an assist, or one goal and two assists depending on who gets awarded with the first goal. Still, that is a good afternoon’s work.
Andre Waterworth headed over from close range before later making it 3-0 after a pull back from Niall Quinn.
Quinn had been introduced into the action alongside Jamie Mulgrew in a double substitution for Daniel Kearns and Robert Garrett.
That was the game over. Not much else of note happened as Linfield secured the points. It was a useful three points, as Linfield went four points clear at the top ahead of Glenavon, and five clear of Coleraine, after Coleraine drew with Ards, 0-0, just like Linfield did a fortnight ago.
It is however, a deceptive lead, as games in hand skew the League table.
If Glenavon win their game in hand, they will be one point behind Linfield. If Coleraine win their game in hand, they will be two points behind Linfield. If Glentoran win their game in hand, they will be three points behind Linfield. If Ballymena United win both their games in hand, they will be one point behind Linfield.
Linfield have the points in the bag, but you can’t fully evaluate the League table until the outstanding games are played over the next few weeks.
Next weekend, has some big games, with Linfield travelling to Coleraine while Glenavon are at home to Crusaders.
Even though a draw wouldn’t be the worst result, we have to go there looking for the win, knowing that we could have Coleraine on the ropes by mid September, and pull further clear of Glenavon and/or Crusaders.
With Ballymena United and Glentoran coming up, three wins could knock three rivals for six.
Before Coleraine, is a County Antrim Shield game against the PSNI. Hopefully, some fringe players will get a run out. It’s a game I would expect to win, even though Linfield scraped a draw against the PSNI in pre-season.
That trip to Coleraine, like the trip to Glentoran in early October is pay on the day. I’m pleasantly surprised that Coleraine isn’t all-ticket. I must admit, I did have fears that Linfield fans would be stitched up by a late announcement regarding this.
Elsewhere, it was announced that UEFA are planning on launching a third club competition. We’ll probably be represented by the Steel and Sons Cup winners seeing as we don’t decided UEFA Cup places on merit.
I’m hoping it’s based on the idea floated in 2015, a competition for clubs to drop into when they go out of the European Cup or UEFA Cup before September.
Meanwhile, looking at possibly going away for a weekend in March. Obviously, taking in a football match would be part of the criteria.
The options from Belfast to go to Mainland Europe are bloody awful. Amsterdam is cheap to get to, with Den Haag and Ajsx both at home on seperate days, but hotels are expensive. Prague is expensive to get to, which is a pity as there is a weekend in March with three teams at home. London is a lazy option. Nothing against London, but I don’t want to go every year.
One football trip I definitely am doing is Coleraine away next Saturday.