Struggling for form after an early season change of manager will have seen Linfield fans know what Coleraine’s plight was from 2015, but very little sympathy, as they looked to get back on the road to recovery after a bumpy run of form.
Despite Coleraine’s struggles since the appointment of Rodney McAree, Coleraine were approaching a year unbeaten away from home in the League. The last team to beat them away from home? Linfield fifty one weeks previously.
Regardless of the result, Linfield would be the last team to beat Coleraine away from home, but would the date be updated?
For the first time this season that numerous players injured, with Michael O’Connor and Andrew Mitchell joining Daniel Kearns on the injured list, presenting a first League start for Jordan Stewart.
With Kearns out until January (according to Liam Beckett on Radio Ulster), it presented an opportunity for Stewart to have an extended run in the team.
Linfield had some good pressure on Coleraine’s goal in the opening minutes of the game, straight on the attack and getting Joel Cooper on the ball as much as possible. Coleraine’s defending was far from assured, with a series of sloppy passes continuing Linfield’s attacks.
One of those sloppy passes saw Stephen Lowry be lucky to escape a yellow card for a foul on Jamie Mulgrew while stretching to try and retrieve a misplaced pass.
Coleraine recovered and started to have chances of their own. The best one came when a headed clearance fell perfectly for Aaron Burns, who surprisingly fired over when free inside the penalty area.
Within minutes, Coleraine fans were celebrating a goal, but erroneously, as Eoin Bradley hit the side netting, causing some Coleraine fans to prematurely celebrate due to their angle in the North Stand.
A couple of minutes later, Coleraine fans were celebrating for real when Darren McCauley ran down the left hand side and his cross was diverted into his own net by Matthew Clarke, trying to get to the ball before Eoin Bradley.
Nobody could say that the goal wasn’t coming.
Coleraine’s domination continued to the point that Linfield were glad to be going in at half-time only 1-0 down.
It was a familiar scoreline for Linfield fans, as this was the forth successive League game that Linfield went in at half-time 1-0 down.
The previous three games resulting in a mixed bag for Linfield – one win, one draw and one defeat.
Even if this game was recovered, it’s still a bad habit to get into, as I have been saying the last few weeks.
Curiously, Coleraine’s goal came at the same time Warrenpoint went 1-0 up last Saturday, and just as Coleraine scored, Warrenpoint went 1-0 up away to Glenavon.
Glenavon being in the same situation was only a consolation for Linfield fans. It wasn’t Glenavon pulling away that is the main worry, it’s the possibility of teams below them catching up with them.
Jordan Stewart had Linfield’s first chance of the second-half but his deflected shot was easily saved by Chris Johns.
Roy Carroll was forced into a save after Eoin Bradley managed to get space in the penalty area.
A bit of pinball after a set piece saw the ball fall to Joel Cooper but his low shot was blocked by a Coleraine defender when he looked set to score.
It was the first time in the half that Coleraine had a moment of worry.
Before you could say that this chance could lift Linfield in their bid to get an equaliser, they were 2-0 down as a quick Coleraine counter-attack saw Kirk Millaw put the ball into his net when trying to get to the ball before Eoin Bradley.
Trying to stop Bradley from scoring would have been Linfield’s intention pre-match. Putting it into their own net instead of him would not have been their intention.
There was still time for Linfield to retrieve the game, but they hadn’t looked like scoring beforehand, now they would have to step it up and score at least two.
Linfield needed a fresh injection from the bench, but there were no obvious options. Two attacking players being injured had decimated the attacking options.
Stephen Fallon the only experienced attacking player on the bench, and he was brought on for Matthew Clarke.
Despite leaving Linfield in the Summer, Stephen Lowry almost added to his assist statistics when a misplaced backpass fell to Andrew Waterworth, who was fouled by Johns but a free-kick to Coleraine was awarded. We would have missed it anyway.
Brandon Doyle and Daniel Reynolds, the two attackers on the bench, but with less than a handful of appearances for Linfield between them were brought on for Jordan Stewart and Joel Cooper. There was nothing to lose.
With a few minutes remaining, Linfield pulled a goal back. Of course, it was an own goal, the third of the game, and it gave Linfield a glimpse of hope.
Belatedly, Linfield began to start playing and attacking Coleraine, sensing that they could repeat their feat from January when they secured an unlikely draw with two late goals.
As injury time approached, it looked set up for it to happen as Linfield had a free-kick just outside the penalty area, but Niall Quinn fired over. Even though injury time remained, you felt that Linfield’s chance had gone.
Of that injury time, there was only three minutes, which was quite remarkable considering how much time Coleraine took at dead ball situations.
At a stoppage as the third of those minutes approached, Roy Carroll adopted the sleeping position to protest at the referee, suggesting that it was taking so long it was almost time for bed. It really wasn’t the time for banter.
Linfield didn’t really themselves by trying to get the game restarted quickly, or by highlighting it to the referee to put pressure on Coleraine players to restart the game. It was a familiar story the entire game, as Linfield showed very little urgency throughout.
There would still be one more chance. Like last week, Kirk Millar had the ball in a wide position deep into injury time. However, his cross was caught by the keeper instead of being headed home.
Coleraine held on for a deserved win. Linfield were second best all afternoon, and showed no urgency to attack. They made it too easy for Coleraine.
When a Linfield player had the ball, there were numerous Coleraine players around him. When a Coleraine player had the ball, they had the freedom of Windsor Park.
It was the forth successive game that Linfield went 1-0 down. It’s a bad habit that needs eradicated as soon as possible. There might have comebacks against Dungannon and Warrenpoint, but there won’t be comebacks every game.
There was no urgency or anybody attacking Coleraine.
Roy Carroll hit a goal kick straight to Andrew Waterworth, and his flick on went straight to Chris Johns. It was all too predictable.
Glenavon eventually drew with Warrenpoint, meaning they are now one point ahead of Linfield with a game in hand. We are in no worse a position than last Friday teatime.
However, it is not upwards we should be looking, we now need to start looking below us as Ballymena United (four points behind with a game in hand), Crusaders (six points behind) and Cliftonville (eight points behind with two games in hand) are now coming up the rear view mirror when they should be an irrelevance.
Luckily for Linfield, the next few matchday sees two games where top six (Ballymena United v Cliftonville and Crusaders v Glenavon) sides meet, making the trip to Institute game must win. It was always must win, regardless of who is playing who.
Over the past few weeks, i’ve commented on how in recent years October and November has been a difficult time for Linfield.
A bad run in 2015 cost us the title. 2016 almost cost us the title. 2017 cost us any chance of having any interest in the title race in 2018.
It is something that will need addressed for November 2019, where there will be five Saturdays.
It would be better to address it for November 2018, where there are still two League games to play in the month.
To give a sense of perspective, Linfield are a point better off than they were at this stage of their last title winning season.
Results and performances recently have been concerning. Another bad result against Institute, and the situation will be upgraded to worrying.